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Ten-man Barcelona See off Sporting

March 4th, 2012

Barcelona produced a performance full of character to defeat Sporting Gijón 3-1 at the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Star-man Iniesta gave Barça the lead in the first half, but when Piqué saw red for a professional foul, Sporting equalised through Barral and Barcelona needed some brilliance from Keita and Xavi to secure the victory.

Messi sat out this match with a suspension, and with Alexis rested on the bench, Barcelona went into the encounter with a side that that looked a little short of recognised forwards.

Sporting kept 11 behind the ball, and it was up to Barcelona to find a way through. There were occasional chances, starting as early as the 2nd minute, when a corner routine between Xavi and Pedro found the winger with a bit of room in the area, but his first time shot was high and wide.

Adriano almost opened the scoring in the 14th minute when he embarked on a lightning run from deep, beating three defenders in a flash before firing just wide. Later Keita found himself with a sight of goal in the area, but a crucial lunge by Botia saw the ball deflect out for a corner.

Then, as half-time approached, and as the match appeared to be descending into a stalemate, Barcelona made the breakthrough. It was a fabulous team goal, with Keita unlocking the stubborn defence, posting Adriano through down the left, who in turn squared for Iniesta to finish with ease from six yards. Cesc nearly made it two before the break, but his effort under pressure was blocked and cleared for a corner by Botía.

The second half began in dramatic fashion. De Las Cuevas got in behind the Barça defence, and as Piqué came in with a challenge, the Sporting forward went down. Referee Carballo had no hesitation in showing a straight red, but replays suggested this was a contentious decision. Barcelona weren’t able to clear their lines and reorganise before Sporting equalised. Mendy tricked his way to the byline, and Barral snuck in front of Valdés to direct his low cross into the net.

Barcelona wobbled briefly as they tried to come to terms with the one-man deficit, but soon settled and went about trying to regain the lead through the majestic Iniesta and Xavi. The former was sublime in carving a clear opportunity for substitute Alexis, but a Sporting defender intervened just as the Chilean was about to pull the trigger.

Then with just over ten minutes of the match remaining, Mascherano passed forward from deep for Alexis, who produced a deft touch to his left for the on-rushing Keita. The midfielder took it onto his left foot and curled a magnificent shot into the top right corner to regain the lead.

As the minutes ticked down, Barça made sure of the win when Iniesta went on another fantastic run before releasing Xavi who clipped the ball over Juan Pablo to cap a hard-fought victory.

1-0 Iniesta (min 41)
1-1 David Barral (min 48)
2-1 Keita (min 70)
3-1 Xavi (min 87)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 25

February 27th, 2012

Real Madrid remain 10 points ahead of FC Barcelona after both won their fixtures this weekend. Barça is now 14 points ahead of Valencia in third place, a masive 24 points separating first and third places.

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Valdés the Star at the Calderon

February 27th, 2012

A magical late free-kick by Lionel Messi won all three points for Barcelona at the Vicente Calderón on Sunday night, as Barcelona battled to a 2-1 victory. Víctor Valdés made some important saves and interceptions to keep the home team at bay.

The first half was a competitive and feisty affair. As is always the case, Barcelona took the initiative, while Los Rojiblancos appeared intent to sit back, remaining compact and deep throughout, and looking to burst forward on the rare occasions they could wrest possession from Barça.

This time Barcelona started brightly – after seven minutes Messi bustled through three challenges and had the ball in the net, only to see the goal ruled out harshly for a handball.

Xavi then went close, forcing an acrobatic save from Courtois from a free-kick 30 yards out. Atlético responded with a couple of dangerous breaks, with Falcao central to their attacking threat. Mascherano kept the Colombian striker out with a perfectly timed tackle in the box, and then Valdés came off his line in flash to cut out a through-ball.

Some full-blooded challenges added an edge to the match, with the home team picking up a succession of borderline dangerous tackles. But Barcelona gradually found some composure, and their goal came from the best move of the half.

Messi worked some space on the edge of the box as the team broke forward. He fed Cesc down the left, who produced a perfectly-weighted first-time cross low for Dani Alves to finish at the back post.

Valdés had to be sharp once again, bravely denying Falcao as he bore down on goal. And on the stroke of half-time Cesc responded with a rugged tackle of his own, taking Juanfran out as the full-back tried to shield the ball by the corner flag.

Atlético pushed forward early in the second half, and within minutes of the restart they had pulled a goal back. A corner from the right was deflected across goal and Falcao arrived at the back post to volley home first-time.

From there it was an even contest, with Barcelona controlling possession but Atlético driving forward with increasing menace. Still, it was the away side that game closest to taking the lead. Mid-way through the second half Alves got the ball down the right and flashed in a teasing cross that just evaded Messi’s lunge but was met by Alexis at the back-post, who headed agonisingly over.

Then, a defensive mix-up by Barça let Falcao in, but once again Valdés read the danger and managed to palm away the striker’s attempted lob. With time running out for Barcelona, it was Messi who made the difference. After a largely indifferent performance the Argentine took a quick free-kick from the left angle of the area that beat the wall and swirled over Courtois’ head and into the top corner.

Barcelona then had to defend some tricky situations, by Valdés was brave in making some important catches from set-pieces.

0-1 Dani Alves (min 35)
1-1 Falcao (min 49)
1-2 Messi (min 81)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 24

February 20th, 2012

Barcelona remain ten points behind Real Madrid in the Spanish league after both teams won their respective matches. Madrid beat Racing Santander, currently languishing in the relegation zone, 4-0, while Barcelona’s 5-1 win against Valencia was much more spectacular given that Valencia are placed third in the league.

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Valencia Mauled by Messi

February 20th, 2012

Barcelona put in a commanding performance against Valencia at the Camp Nou on Sunday night, coming out 5-1 winners and playing some spellbinding football in the process. Lionel Messi got four with an attacking master class, and Xavi added a fifth in injury time.

As Barcelona were finding their feet Valencia grabbed their goal. In truth, Barça might have done more to keep it out – Feghouli got a yard on Abidal down the right flank and swung in an optimistic cross that had to travel a long way to find a Valencia shirt. Somehow though, Piatti snuck in between Piqué and Montoya, and Valdes seemed to have got his bearings wrong, leaving the Argentine winger with almost an open goal in which to smuggle in his half-volley.

When Barcelona did get going they produced what might be some of their best football of the season, especially when you consider the opposition. Pedro had a half chance that was easily held by Diego Alves. Shortly after, Pedro darted down the left flank before crossing low for Messi. Adil Rami got a toe to the cross, but Messi responded instantly, tucking the ball in from a tight angle on the byline from the left.

By now Barcelona were moving the ball with dazzling speed and assurance. Messi was in fine form – shortly after he saw his 50-yard run cut off at the last moment by Víctor Ruíz, the effervescent Argentine got his second of the night to hand Barça a deserved lead. Iniesta showed great vision to find Abidal on the byline down the left, and the Frenchman’s low cross picked out Messi perfectly at the backpost. The first poked effort was well-saved, but once again he was quickest to the rebound and clipped it into the roof of the net just ahead of the goalie’s grasp.

Cesc also shone as the half wore down, first dancing through the defence to see a shot well saved and then turning to connect with a chipped Iniesta pass on the volley as it dropped over his shoulder, only to see it hit the crossbar.

After the break, Cesc almost scored another spectacular goal when he beat four Valencia defenders from an inside-left position. His low shot was bound for the bottom-right corner, but Diego Alves somehow pushed it round the post. Messi saw a header palmed onto the cross-bar from close-range, and Cesc missed an opportunity to make it 3-1 with the goal gaping.

The crucial third goal came with 15 minutes on the clock. Cristian Tello showed characteristic pace to work some room from a shot on the left side of the area, and once again Messi was in the right place at the right time to find the net. He wasn’t done there though – ten minutes later Busquets put him through to get his fourth with a clever chip. Xavi notched a fifth as the clock ran down, pouncing on a loose ball and lobbing the stranded ‘keeper.

0-1 Piatti (min 8 )
1-1 Messi (min 21)
2-1 Messi (min 26)
3-1 Messi (min 75)
4-1 Messi (min 84)
5-1 Xavi (min 90)


Confident Barcelona Clinch Win in Germany

February 15th, 2012

Barcelona took an important step towards the next round of the Champions League on Tuesday night, triumphing 3-1 at the BayArena. Alexis Sánchez provided the first two goals with two clinical finishes, and Messi followed up with a crucial clincher in the final minutes.

The opening half was a turgid, tactical affair. Barcelona completely dominated possession but were faced with a relatively timid opponent, who sat deep and narrow and blocked all avenues to goal.

Chances were few and far between. There was a sniff of an opening in the 13th minute, when Alexis broke free down the right and tried to find Messi with a cross, but Schwaab intercepted the pass on the stretch just in front of the Argentine.

Dani Alves sent a long range free-kick just over a little later, but after that the game descended into a stalemate, with Barcelona laboring on a pitch with long grass that looked a little untended.

But just before half-time and almost out of nowhere, Barcelona got a goal. Bayer Leverkusen tried to get up the pitch on a rare counter-attack, but abandoned their left flank. So when the ball fell to Messi, he produced a fantastic pass with the outside of his boot to release Alexis. The Chilean’s finish was perfect, side-footing between Leno’s legs and into the bottom-left corner.

Perhaps unsurprising given their slightly negative approach in the first half, Leverkusen were far more enterprising in the early minutes of the second period. The teams exchanged half-chances before the home side managed to equalise – right-back Corluka got to the byline and swung a cross in towards the back-post. Czech international Kadlec managed to get the jump on Puyol and headed into the top corner.

Barcelona’s response was almost immediate. Cesc found time and space in the middle and picked out Alexis with a sumptuous through-ball. The Chilean then advanced on Leno and jinked to the keeper’s right, before finishing into the empty net from a tight angle.

It was the cue for a very even spell – Barça were still finding openings, it’s just that the opposition were also proving a little more adventurous now. Renato Augusto was denied by a world-class save by Valdés, who pushed the striker’s low shot on the left-hand post. Valdés came to rescue a little late when he managed to gather Kiessling’s diving header.

Messi might have put the tie firmly in Barcelona’s hands when he produced a mesmerising piece of skill to evade two Leverkusen defenders on the right side of the area, but his shot was blocked by Leno and then bounced off his chest and onto the post.

But there was time to take a commanding lead back to Barcelona next month. Alves was spotted by Messi, who released the right-back with a deft pass. Alves was forced wide as he went forward, but kept his composure to cross for Messi, leaving the Argentine with an easy finish at the back post.

0-1 Alexis (min 41)
1-1 Kadlec (min 52)
1-2 Alexis (min 55)
1-3 Messi (min 88)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 23

February 13th, 2012

Real Madrid opened the gap with FC Barcelona to 10 points this weekend, effectively putting the title our of the reach of the Catalans.

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Barcelona Frozen Out at Osasuna

February 12th, 2012

Barcelona have lost ground in the title race, falling to a 3-2 defeat away at Osasuna. On a bitter night in Pamplona the home team adapted better to the difficult conditions, surging to 2-0 via two Lekic goals. In the second half Alexis and Tello scored for Barcelona, but Raul Garcia’s 56th minute strike proved decisive.

The first half was one best forgotten by Barcelona. The weather couldn’t have been less suited to passing football – subzero temperatures resulted in a frozen playing surface, made even less predictable by gusty wind.

Barça were having to think twice about every pass, allowing the home team to win the ball back time and again. Osasuna on the other hand were clearly more acclimatised, looking comfortable in these exceptional conditions and taking advantage of Barcelona’s hesitation.

Their opener came in the fifth minute, when Raúl García nipped in front of Puyol on the edge of the area to direct the ball on the stretch for Lekic, who tucked his finish low past Valdés.

Usually Barça are quick to rally after going a goal down, but Osasuna were looking sharper and more confident in both attack and defence, while the away team had to toil for any kind of opening. Alexis managed to get in behind not long after Osasuna’s first goal, but was incorrectly ruled offside. Messi also went close, forcing an acrobatic save from Fernández with a shot from the edge of the area.

But the next real attack would come from the home team – and it ended with another goal. Cejudo managed to drift out to the right touchline unseen, and when he got possession drove a low cross across the face of goal that found Lekic completely unmarked to score from six yards.

Puyol and Pedro, who had both found the going tough, were replaced by Tello and Cuenca at the break, and Barcelona made a marked improvement. They clawed a goal back shortly after the restart when Cuenca scuttled down the right flanked and crossed low for Alexis to score from close range.

Still, the hesitancy that had wracked Barcelona’s first-half defending was evident once more just a few minutes later. They were unable to clear their lines sufficiently after an Osasuna attack, and Nino found room down the left to whip another low cross for Raúl García, who saw his near-post effort roll in off the upright to take it to 3-1.

From then on Barcelona attacked relentlessly. Cesc came on for Piqué, and had an immediate effect, side-footing a lovely through pass for Tello, who turned inside his defender and lashed a powerful effort high inside the near post with 20 minutes to go.

With the game finely poised, and Barcelona piling forward, both teams had chances in the closing stages. Puñal saw his shot saved pushed onto the post by Valdés, and at the other end Tello went one-on-one down the left, but Fernández produced a reaction save.

1-0 Lekic (min 4)
2-0
Lekic (min 21)
2-1 Alexis (min 50)
3-1
Raúl García (min 55)
3-2 Tello (min 71)


Barcelona Stroll into Final

February 9th, 2012

Barcelona defeated Valencia 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Wednesday to set up a meeting with Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey. The goals came from two stylish moves, finished by Cesc in the first half and Xavi in the second.

Valencia looked motivated and energetic in the opening stages, and managed to fashion a couple of early chances before Barcelona had been able to hit their stride. Firstly Ruíz, snuck in at the near-post, but could only slice his effort wide.

Then Mathieu looked up and picked out Fenghouli with a through-ball from the left, but Barça’s defence recovered and the winger grazed the side-netting under pressure. From there Barcelona began to find their composure, and some of the attacking movement over the next half an hour was sublime.

Barcelona took the lead with their first real attack – Messi dropped deep and lofted a staggering 40-yard pass over the Valencia backline into the path of Cesc, who barely had to adjust his stride before flicking the ball over Diego Alves with the outside of his boot to complete a fantastic move.

Minutes later, Messi intercepted a ball out by Rami before jinking past the defender. His shot was saved by Diego Alves, and rebounded to Cuenca, who took a touch before dispatching a shot just wide of the left post. Meanwhile Cesc was in real form – he clipped another lofted through-pass for Alexis, whose shot was deflected just wide. Then, as the half was coming to an end, he picked up the ball from the right and ran at the Valencia defence, evading a couple of challenges before forcing yet another Diego Alves save.

As in the first half, Valencia looked dangerous immediately after the restart. Jonas found Jordi Alba, who nodded past Puyol, beating the defender for pace. Pinto read the situation well this time and rushed out to close down the angle and make an important near-post save.

Barcelona settled once more though, and Cuenca started to shine on the left flank. In a lovely passage of play, the youngster dribbled in off the touchline and put Messi through with a clever reverse-pass, but the Argentine’s shot was deflected over. Messi was also creating opportunities of his own. In one dazzling run he evaded three Valencia defenders, but saw his effort pushed around the post by the increasingly overworked Diego Álvez.

There was one last scare at the other end of the pitch, when Pinto was caught off his line. Aduriz’ chip was on target, but Mascherano was covering and headed the ball off the line.

As the match entered it last ten minutes, Barcelona ended the match as contest. In another flowing move, Alexis was released by Messi down the left; the Chilean squared for Cesc, who laid it off deftly for Xavi on the overlap. The midfielder took a touch before driving it into the top-left corner to confirm Barça’s place in the final.

1-0 Fabregas (min 15)
2-0 Xavi (min 81)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 22

February 6th, 2012

Real Madrid maintained their seven point advantage over FC Barcelona at the weekend after both won their respective matches.

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