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La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 11

October 31st, 2011

Real Madrid and Barça both won their respective games, while Levante lost and dropped into third place in the Spanish league.

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Barcelona and Messi Answer Critics

October 31st, 2011

After a week in which doubts have been raised about their capacity to meet their usual lofty standards this campaign, FC Barcelona dismantled RCD Mallorca at the Camp Nou on Saturday night, running home easy 5-0 winners. And it was two players who have come in for a some criticism who shone – Lionel Messi claimed a hat-trick in the first 30 minutes, while all-rounder Adriano provided three assists. Youngster Isaac Cuenca scored a classy fourth, on just his second first-team appearance for the club, and Dani Alves smashed home a spectacular fifth goal from 25 yards.

Pep Guardiola raised a few eyebrows with his team selection here. Cesc Fàbregas, Iniesta and Xavi sat out, with the latter not even making the bench, as Pep sought to rest some of his key creative midfielders while giving youngsters like Thiago and Isaac Cuenca a chance to inject some youthful energy into a team that had been looking a little jaded in recent weeks. Barcelona also reverted to their controversial 3-4-3 formation.

It was Mallorca who unexpectedly fashioned the first chance of note in the match – left-back Pedro Bigas found lots of space down the left wing, and produced a tantalising cross that Joâo Victor somehow managed to skew wide. But from there on it was all Barcelona, who were clearly intent on making their mark against one of the Primera División’s strugglers.

The first goal came after Adriano, playing as an attacking left midfielder, nodded a deep cross back across goal, only for defender Nsue to intervene with his hand. Messi dispatched the resulting penalty into the top-right corner. The Argentine maestro then threaded a delightful ball through for Villa, but goalkeeper Dudu Aouate came out and blocked well.

Then Cuenca, looking very lively on just his second start for the first team, twisted and turned until he reached the byline. His cross was turned back into the danger area by Adriano, and Messi was in the right place to notch his second from five yards. On the half-hour mark Messi completed his 20-minute hat-trick with a cushioned volley from a fine, driven cross by Dani Alves.

Barcelona were back in the goals shortly after the restart. This time Adriano put Isaac Cuenca through, and the winger rounded Aouate before finishing left-footed into the top corner. Piqué had replaced Abidal at half time, and he was joined midway through the half by Carles Puyol. The final player to come off the bench was another hotly-tipped youngster, Gerard Deulofeu.

The pace slowed a little as the game entered the final half-hour, but Messi was determined to add to his tally, powering a free-kick that was well saved by Aouate and demonstrating his aerial ability, leaping to head to head just wide after a fabulous cross by Dani Alves. And it was the Brazilian defender who added the gloss to a dominant performance when his wonderful long-range effort crashed in off the crossbar in injury time.

1-0 Messi (p) (min 13)
2-0 Messi (min 21)
3-0 Messi (min 30)
4-0 Cuenca min 49)
5-0 Alves (min 91)


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

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