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La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 10

October 27th, 2011

Barcelona dropped back into third place in the league table last night as Real Madrid and Levante won their respective matches.

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Barcelona Do Enough in Granada

October 26th, 2011

FC Barcelona gained a surprisingly narrow 1-0 victory at Granada on Tuesday night. Xavi Hernández provided the inspiration with a world-class free kick in the first half.

The big surprise before kickoff was the inclusion of youth academy graduate and Barça B star, Isaac Cuenca. The 20 year-old took his place on the left wing, and was joined in attack by Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodríguez. Busquets and Cesc Fàbregas accompanied Xavi in midfield on the night he became Barcelona’s most capped player, and Adriano was replaced by Maxwell at left back.

After a relatively subdued period of early possession the away side slowly started to find its shooting range; Messi worked some room on the right side of the area, beating one defender before curling a shot past the far post. Cuenca then carved a chance of his own, this time cutting in from the left and driving a shot wide from 25 yards.

A few minutes later Dani Alves bustled down the right wing and curled a beautiful cross for Pedro, who glanced a free header just wide. Pep Guardiola’s men have had better halves, but the breakthrough came on 32 minutes, when Xavi was felled about 30 yards from goal by Jaime Romero. The captain stepped up to take the resulting free kick and curled a magnificent strike over the wall and inside the near post.

El Graná were unable to offer much in response, choked in possession by a hardworking Barcelona side who were possibly lacking a little of their usual attacking imagination.

In the second half Barcelona were still a little laboured in their forward play, but were able to maintain possession and keep Granada at bay. The home side came out after the break offering a little more bite in the tackle, and this was epitomised by Siqueira’s foul from behind on Pedro, which put the winger on a stretcher with a nasty looking ankle injury to be replaced by David Villa.

And in the same passage of play Jaime Romero raised his boot against Maxwell, resulting in a second yellow for the midfielder. Moments later Messi was fed by Villa on the edge of the area, and the Argentine forward dinked the ball over Roberto. It looked for all the world a goal, but Diego Mainz scampered back to make a fantastic goal-line clearance.

The next big chance fell to Cuenca, who was put through on the left by Xavi, but denied a debut goal by the onrushing Roberto. The remainder of the match was a relatively scrappy affair – Barcelona continued to lack their customary incision, while Granada struggled to build a move of note. Dani Benítez summed up the evening when he earned a red card by kicking the ball away after getting pulled up for an offside.

Still, Pep Guardiola was able to take pride in a seventh consecutive clean sheet as his side returned to the top of the table for at least 24 hours.

0-1, Xavi (min 33)


La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 9

October 24th, 2011

This weekend sees the unfamiliar site of Levante heading the Spanish league after the eighth match of the season. While Real Madrid beat Malaga 4-0, Barça had to settle for a goalless draw against Sevilla at the Nou Camp and Levante beat Villarreal 3-0.

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Javi Varas Keeps Barcelona at Bay

October 24th, 2011

Sevilla FC held Barcelona to a draw at the Camp Nou on Saturday night thanks in no small part to their goalkeeper Javi Varas, who made some spectacular saves throughout the encounter, including an injury time penalty stop from Lionel Messi amid acrimonious circumstances.

Guardiola had returned to a 3-4-3 at kick-off, with Alves, Mascherano and Abidal lining up at the back. Former Sevilla utility man Adriano started on the right wing, but midway through the first half returned to a left-back position to help negate Los Rojiblancos’ blistering pace on the counter, which had threatened to expose Abidal and Mascherano in the early stages.

The goalkeepers stole the show in the first half; Javi Varas made three reaction saves to deny Iniesta, Messi and Villa, the pick of which came after ten minutes when Iniesta got on the end of an Adriano cutback, only to see his powerful low effort blocked by Varas’ right leg.

Valdés wasn’t to be upstaged though – when Jesús Navas worked some space in the area ten minutes later Barça’s number 1 leaped to his right to palm over a shot heading for the very top corner. Much of the remainder of the half was a tense tactical battle, with Sevilla sitting deep and Barcelona reluctant to over-commit players forward.

As the opening period drew to a close Barcelona burst into life once more, drawing yet more saves from Varas – Villa was released by Adriano but Sevilla’s ‘keeper was equal to the effort, and two minutes later Messi’s effort was deflected out for a corner.

The onslaught continued into the second half as Barcelona pushed for an opening goal. Messi went close with a 35-yard free-kick, which swerved just over the bar, and then rose highest to head a perfect Dani Alves cross just wide. In between, Iniesta smashed a 20-yard shot that was bound for the bottom corner, only for Varas to intervene with a fantastic low save.

Messi then produced a dazzling through-pass to find Iniesta in the area. Barça’s number eight just managed to make a connection under pressure from Varas, but his shot bounced agonisingly off the top of the crossbar. Sevilla’s ‘keeper soon came to the fore once again, getting down to a right-footed Messi shot inside the area.

With fifteen minutes to go Sevilla began to settle and Barcelona looked increasingly short of ideas, throwing on Pedro, Cesc Fàbregas and finally Busquets.

But, as the game appeared to be fizzling out, Iniesta weaved his way into the Sevilla area and won a penalty from a desperate lunge by Fazio. Replays vindicated referee Iturralde González’ decision, but Sevilla were incensed – Kanouté’s protestations earned him a yellow card, and then he lost his cool and got a red by assaulting Cesc. All the while Messi was waiting to take his spot-kick. When his chance finally came, four minutes after the penalty was awarded, Javi Varas completed a virtuoso performance with yet another stunning save.


Villa and Iniesta Dispatch Awkward Czechs

October 20th, 2011

FC Barcelona triumphed 2-0 at home to Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday, having created a plethora of chances. Iniesta grabbed a sublime first goal after just ten minutes, but despite overrunning their opponents Barça had to wait for 70 more minutes before they could rest easy.

Guardiola selected what was last season’s first choice front six, with Iniesta and Xavi anchored by Busquets, and Messi offered the freedom of a withdrawn forward role flanked by Villa and Pedro. Plzen lined up with a 4-4-2 and a team composed entirely of Czech and Slovak players boasting few names that Barcelona fans would recognise.

After drawing against AC Milan Barcelona were in search of a first home win in Europe this season and started the match aggressively; Pedro and Alves both had fine chances after lightning quick one-touch passing moves from the left and then right. Then after ten minutes an almost identical attack involving Messi and Iniesta found the Spanish midfielder in an inside-right position in the area – he flicked the bouncing ball from his right foot to left, confounding his marker, before driving a shot into the bottom right corner to cap a magnificent piece of skill.

Plzen were in real trouble, and Barcelona’s high pressing ensured that they were unable to build attacks, with much of the first 30 minutes played exclusively in the away team’s half. And the chances came thick and fast for Barça; Pedro found room in the area on three occasions but was let down by a lack of composure and some desperate last-ditch Plzen defending. David Villa curled a shot wide and Messi hit the side-netting after he brought down a delicate looped pass by Busquets.

After half an hour the Czechs enjoyed their first spell of possession, but despite pushing Barcelona back were unable to muster a chance of note. And at the final whistle Messi offered a reminder of his threat when he curled a 25-yard free-kick onto the crossbar.

The chances continued to flow for Barcelona after the break, and it was Lionel Messi who took the spotlight. The Argentine forward embarked on two slaloming runs that would have resulted in goal of the season contenders had he managed to finish them off. For the first he worked his way past three defenders before being denied at the near post by Marek Cech in the Plzen goal.

Just minutes later he was at it again, leaving more defenders on their backsides only to see his effort bounce out off the near post and out for a goal kick. Messi’s next attempt had a hint of over-elaboration about it, as he controlled an incisive Villa pass and clipped the ball over Cech with supreme nonchalance, only to be tackled on the line.

The second goal finally arrived in the 81st minute when Messi was tackled in the area, only for the ball to drop at the feet of David Villa who made no mistake from 15 yards.

1-0 Iniesta (min 10)
2-0 Villa (min 81)


La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 8

October 17th, 2011

Barcelona remain at the head of the Spanish league table after a 3-0 win against Racing on Saturday night. Leo Messi scored two goals to make him the second highest scorer ever for FC Barcelona (196 goals); he now needs to beat the 235 goals scored by César Rodríguez between 1942 and 1955 to take the number one position, which should be well within his grasp.

Weirdly enough it is Levante who are in second place, matching Barça’s 17 points, followed by arch-rival Real Madrid on 16. It remains to be seen how long this can continue, but there are many matches still to be played and one point between them at this early stage in the season means little.

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Barcelona Bulldoze Racing

October 16th, 2011

Lionel Messi starred on Saturday night, as FC Barcelona eased their way to a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou against Racing Santander. The Argentine dynamo was in fine fettle and notched his side’s first and last goal, separated by a Xavi header, sending Barça back to the Primera División, one point ahead of Real Madrid.

The home team had welcomed Andrés Iniesta back into the starting lineup, after a month-long absence with a muscular injury. Puyol and Piqué were also making a rare, and unfortunately short lived, outing as a central defensive pair. Other than that it was a conventional 4-3-3 for Barcelona, although they were without a recognised defensive midfielder, with Xavi, Thiago and Iniesta playing across the middle.

Early on the Cantabrians, still winless in the league, worked hard to close Barça down, and almost caught Valdés in possession once or twice. There was also another injury setback for Gerard Piqué, when he was forced off after no more than ten minutes to be replaced by Éric Abidal.

But Barcelona soon settled, and scored with their first real attack; Messi set Iniesta free on the right hand side of the box. The midfielder held the ball up before nudging it back to the Argentine forward, who surged through with his first touch, dummied round Toño and passed the ball home into the empty net.

Racing had posed a minor threat before the opening goal, but wouldn’t trouble the Barça defence again before half time, as Guardiola’s men assumed total control and created chance after chance. Messi was denied by a last-ditch block, before Pedro worked some space down the left wing against Francis and delivered and inviting cross for Xavi to head down into the bottom right corner.

In the last 15 minutes of the half Pedro and Messi both went close, but perhaps the best chance fell to Villa, who was found by a delightful Messi through-ball and rounded Toño only to see his effort hit the side-netting.

Valdés was forced into action early in the second period, pushing away Koné’s low show after the forward found a yard of room in the area. Unaffected, Barcelona then resumed their dominance, keeping possession and probing the Racing defence. Xavi had a shot deflected wide and Messi was twice foiled by Toño. He also might have won a penalty when he set off on a thrilling run, beating three players before tricking his way past Álvaro González, only to be felled by the defender just inside the area.

Barça’s number 10 would exact his revenge moments later; he guided a pinpoint diagonal pass for Iniesta, who wriggled past two defenders and slammed a shot against the far post for Messi to follow up and grab his second of the night.

Guardiola’s men closed the game out with little trouble, and might have extended their lead when David Villa clipped the top of the crossbar and Éric Abidal saw a spectacular overhead kick saved at full-stretch.

1-0, Messi (min 11)
2-0, Xavi (min 27)
3-0, Messi (min 68)


La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 7

October 3rd, 2011

Barcelona go to the top of the table after this weekend, after a narrow victory against Sporting Gijon, at the very bottom of the table. With Levante in second place, Real Madrid are now in the third spot but a single point behind.

  Team P W D L F A Pts
1
Barcelona
6
4
2
0
23
4
14
2
Levante
6
4
2
0
7
3
14
3
Real Madrid
6
4
1
1
20
5
13
4
Málaga
6
4
1
1
10
4
13
5
Valencia
6
4
1
1
9
6
13
6
Sevilla
6
3
3
0
6
3
12
7
Betis
6
4
0
2
9
7
12
8
Atlético Madrid
6
2
2
2
8
6
8
9
Real Sociedad
6
2
1
3
7
8
7
10
Mallorca
6
2
1
3
5
7
7
11
Osasuna
6
1
4
1
5
12
7
12
Espanyol
5
2
0
3
5
7
6
13
Villarreal
6
1
3
2
7
11
6
14
Rayo Vallecano
6
1
3
2
6
10
6
15
Zaragoza
6
1
3
2
7
13
6
16
Athletic Bilbao
6
1
2
3
7
9
5
17
Getafe
6
1
1
4
6
10
4
18
Racing Santander
6
0
4
2
4
9
4
19
Granada
6
1
1
4
2
8
4
20
Sporting Gijón
6
0
1
5
2
10
1

Barcelona claw their way to win in Gijon

October 3rd, 2011

FC Barcelona battled to a 1-0 victory away at Sporting Gijón on Sunday night. Utility man Adriano scored the only goal on what was a demanding and occasionally bruising encounter away at La Liga’s bottom club.

Indeed, recent weeks have brought plenty of bad news on the injury front, and for this game Guardiola had to make do without Alexis Sánchez, Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta, all of whom are recovering from muscular injuries.

However, the coach continues to persist with a three-man defence; this time Alves and Abidal flanked Macherano at the back. Busquets sat in front of the backline again, offering help to his defenders when needed. Meanwhile Adriano started the game in a somewhat unfamiliar right-midfield role.

And it was to be the Brazilian player who made the breakthrough for Barcelona. With 11 minutes on the clock, Xavi looked up and slammed a shot from central position about 25 yards out. Juan Pablo in the Sporting goal was well beaten, but the ball rebounded off the left post and into the path of Adriano on the right angle of the penalty area. His bouncing, left-footed effort was slightly scuffed, but completely wrong-footed the ‘keeper and nestled in the bottom-left corner to make it 1-0.

The rest of the half was a story of absolute domination but few clear chances for Barça. A few minutes after the goal, Villa swapped passes with Thiago, but fired straight at Juan Pablo.

After that Barcelona couldn’t make their 80% possession count further. This was partly down to the organised defending of Gijón, who stepped up and caught Barcelona offside on a number of occasions; Villa was perhaps the chief culprit in this respect, but was joined by Messi and Alves.

Not long before half time Messi might have won a penalty, when he dribbled into the Sporting area, only to be felled by Miguel de las Cuevas, who appeared to catch his heels.

As the half ended there was a minor injury scare for Mascherano, who was caught on the side of the head accidentally by Alves’ knee and looked in real trouble before walking off groggily down the tunnel to join his teammates in the dressing room.

The second half was a similar story to the first, with Barcelona working hard to create openings, but being denied either by the offside flag or by sloppiness. Abidal limped off after 52 minutes with what appeared to be yet another muscle strain. He was replaced by Maxwell, and Barça then reverted to a back four when Piqué arrived in place of Pedro.

There were a few rugged looking challenges flying in as the game wore on, with Busquets, Messi and Alves all sent flying in the closing minutes. Messi came closest to doubling the lead, heading directly at Pablo, but Barcelona were ultimately happy to settle for a single goal and in truth were never really troubled at the back.

0-1, Adriano (min 12)


BATE battered in Minsk

September 29th, 2011

FC Barcelona cruised to a 5–0 victory against Belarusian side BATE Borisov in Minsk on Wednesday night. Guardiola’s men were never less than comfortable throughout, creating numerous chances on the way to a relatively rare away victory in Europe.

Sporting their black away colours, Barça took the lead through an own goal, before Pedro scored a header and Messi added two more goals to his already impressive tally this season.

As soon as the match settled, Barcelona were confronted by a wall of yellow shirts, with BATE setting up very deep in the hope of stifling Pep Guardiola’s side. Sole striker Mateja Kezman cut a very isolated figure on the halfway line, with his teammates withdrawing to the edge of the area in two tight banks. The first opportunity fell to BATE, as defender Marko Simic headed a corner over.

Barça stuck to their task and slowly the chances began to flow. Thiago’s shot was saved, and a Messi free-kick flashed past the left corner. With BATE unable to build anything resembling an attack, the strain was beginning to tell. And when Alves delivered a teasing cross from the right flank, midfielder Volodko turned the ball into his own goal under pressure from Messi at the back post.

Just three minutes later Barcelona were two goals ahead, when David Villa swung a pinpoint cross for Pedro to rise and nod home from the penalty spot. After this fine effort the home defence was in disarray, and a host of chances followed for the away side.

Still, the home team did muster one chance – Volodko nearly made up for his earlier error when he found some space in the Barça area, but the Belarusian poked the ball wide under pressure from Valdés.

David Villa was looking particularly lively and had two shots well saved after working some space on the left side of the area. The third goal for Barcelona was an absolute gift. This time Pedro broke free down the right, and when his rather tame cross was inexplicably fumbled by Gutor in the BATE goal, Messi was on hand to stab the ball home from five yards.

Early in the second half Lionel Messi looked hungry for more goals; just after the break he set off on a bustling run from the right flank, but skewed the ball wide at the near post with the outside of his left boot. The Argentine forward was not to be denied though; soon after, he set Alves galloping down the right flank and the Brazilian aimed a forensic square pass through the BATE ranks, which Messi controlled and fired into the top right corner to complete a fantastic move.

Messi nearly turned provider moments later when he found Abidal clear in the area with a breathtaking angled pass, but the French defender’s effort was saved. The night was topped off at the death by David Villa, who tucked a Thiago through pass into the bottom right corner.

0-1 Volodko (own goal) (min 18)
0-2 Pedro (min 22)
0-3 Messi (min 38)
0-4 Messi (min 56)
0-5 Villa (min 89)


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