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La Liga table 2010/11 – round 37

May 16th, 2011

With the title already decided, Camp Nou was in a party mood on Sunday night, with Barça’s players celebrating at the end of the match with showers of confetti and throwing red peppers into the crowd.

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Confetti Rains at the Camp Nou

May 16th, 2011

FC Barcelona lifted the Primera División trophy on Sunday night after a stalemate at home to strugglers Deportivo de La Coruña. Although it was a match of few chances there was no dampening the celebrations at the Camp Nou as Xavi Hernández and Carles Puyol accepted Barcelona’s 21st league title.

Guardiola turned to his fringe players and Barça B stars tonight, affording the household names a well-deserved rest after a tough domestic campaign – and a night or two of heavy partying during the week. Starting in an unfamiliar side were youngsters like Jonathan dos Santos, Marc Bartra, Thiago and Fontàs.

The Champions League final is also now less than two weeks away – so while there’s a need to maintain the health of the squad, Barcelona will also be aware of the need to keep momentum with their biggest match of the season still to come.

Deportivo are also a team embroiled in a relegation scrap, and had no intention of surrendering three vital points. This was to be no exhibition match for Guardiola’s second-string team.

The starting lineup was unusual, but the style and formation were very familiar, with the home team controlling possession and interchanging with all the fluency you’d expect from a Barcelona XI.

Afellay in particular caught the eye, playing in Messi’s central role and embarking on a number of fleet-footed runs. Jeffren also showed glimpses of his considerable dribbling skill, shuffling past two Deportivo defenders only to poke his shot into the side netting.

But for all their attacking verve the final pass and finish were lacking in the first period.

At the other end Deportivo, known for their pragmatism in recent years, created one opportunity early on, as Víctor Valdés produced an acrobatic save to stop a Lassad effort after juts two minutes.

It was to be the Galician side’s best chance of the half, as they set about containing their opponents, with the centre-half Aythami deployed as a temporary defensive midfielder.

The second half also saw few opportunities at either end. Deportivo grew increasingly anxious as news of the evening’s scorelines filtered through. A defeat would take now their Primera División destiny out of their hands. Lotina’s response was to bolster his side’s defence, withdrawing Lassad for the rugged Gaurdado.

Meanwhile Pep Guardiola introduced Maxwell and Dani Alves to add some attacking impetus on the flanks. The change almost reaped immediate reward when Bojan came within inches of a drilled Alves cross after a darting run by the Brazilian. Bojan’s persistence forced another chance a few minutes later, as he scrambled through the Deportivo backline only to see his finish deflected wide.

Despite Barcelona’s dominance, the best chance of the match fell at the feet of Depor striker Xisco in injury time, but Víctor Valdés was equal to the effort and notched yet another clean sheet in an immaculate campaign.

Despite not scoring, Barcelona’s fringe players can take great pride in dominating a top-flight match against experienced opposition.


Barcelona Are Champions!

May 12th, 2011

FC Barcelona have won their 21st Primera División title after earning a 1-1 draw away at Levante on Wednesday night. It’s the third successive year that Guardiola’s side has finished top of the league. And there is now a growing consensus throughout the football world that this Barça team is one of the greatest ever to play the game.

The point was convenient for both sides, with Levante now close to securing their La Liga status for another season. And although the first half was relatively competitive the last 20 minutes of the game saw both teams more than happy to settle for a draw.

The final whistle was greeted with rapturous celebrations, as the entire Barça squad ran onto the pitch to revel in the moment and cap a season of near-total superiority, but one that was also full of drama. In truth, the title is testament to the sheer guts of a side that has negotiated an injury crisis in defence for much of the season. Despite losing a host of players at the back, this remarkable team has only lost two league matches this season, all the while playing with their trademark attacking flair.

Although there was an element of rotation tonight, Barcelona started with David Villa, Messi and Xavi, demonstrating a desire to get the title wrapped up as early as possible with the Champions League final looming large on the horizon.

Levante’s manager Luís García had made it clear before the match that he had no intention of attacking his visitors, and instead anticipated his team’s best opportunities coming from set pieces. So it was little surprise to see the Granotes getting men behind the ball and defending stubbornly. Captain and human monolith Sergio Ballesteros was doing a fine job marshalling his teammates and keeping defensive discipline.

Barcelona’s answer to these tactics was to move the ball patiently and wait for an opening to present itself rather than forcing the issue. As has often been the case this season, Barça eventually found a way through on the half-hour mark.

It was a goal that underlined the unique qualities of Guardiola’s Barça; Xavi spotted Seydou Keita making a run from a deep inside-left position and found the Malian midfielder with a perfect lofted forward pass. Keita barely had to break stride as he headed the ball into the top-left corner from just inside the area.

In response Levante made a concerted effort to put Barça’s defenders under pressure. Their equaliser came after Ecuadorian striker Caicedo took advantage of a mix up between Gerard Piqué and goalkeeper Víctor Valdés.

Lionel Messi came to fore in the second half, lighting up the pitch two outrageous dribbles, only to be denied firstly by the post, and then by the despairing lunge of a Levante defender.

For the final minutes of the match the Barcelona subs were all standing arm in arm, ready for the final whistle, and with it confirmation of another season of domestic domination.


La Liga table 2010/11 – round 35

May 9th, 2011

With just nine points available and Barça eight points ahead of Real Madrid this season is all but decided after both teams won their respective matches. Barcelona faces Levante on Wednesday and that is almost certain to be the deciding match.

Team P W D L F A Pts
1
Barcelona
35
29
4
2
91
19
91
2
Real Madrid
35
26
5
4
87
31
83
3
Valencia
35
20
6
9
60
42
66
4
Villarreal
35
18
7
10
53
40
61
5
Athletic Bilbao
35
17
3
15
55
51
54
6
Sevilla
35
15
7
13
54
55
52
7
Atlético Madrid
35
15
7
13
55
47
52
8
Espanyol
35
15
3
17
42
49
48
9
Sporting Gijón
35
10
13
12
33
39
43
10
Levante
35
12
7
16
38
49
43
11
Mallorca
35
12
7
16
35
47
43
12
Racing Santander
35
11
10
14
37
51
43
13
Málaga
35
12
6
17
50
64
42
14
Osasuna
35
11
8
16
41
42
41
15
Real Sociedad
35
13
2
20
45
61
41
16
Getafe
35
11
7
17
46
56
40
17
Zaragoza
35
10
9
16
36
50
39
18
Deportivo
35
9
12
13
29
44
39
19
Hércules
35
9
6
20
33
56
33
20
Almería
35
5
11
19
32
61
26

Barcelona Amble Past Espanyol

May 9th, 2011

FC Barcelona registered a simple win against Espanyol in the Barcelona derby tonight, easing to a 2-0 victory against their local rivals. It was a professional but low-key victory – the perfect antidote to the acrimony that engulfed the recent series of Clásicos.

After an uneventful start, Iniesta opened the scoring in the first half with a stylish run and finish, while Gerard Piqué made it 2-0 with a straightforward headed finish from a Xavi corner. Barça now just need one point from their remaining three games to secure a 21st Primera División title.

Starting with his best front six, Guardiola was able to call on a strong team against a side that has offered stiff resistance in recent seasons. At the back Fontàs filled in for Abidal and Adriano, while Mascherano’s impressive recent displays at centre half were rewarded with another start.

The opening half hour of the match was tight, with Espanyol quick to get players behind the ball and close off space. On their rare attacks they appeared to be targeting Fontàs at left back, but a few brief forays yielded little more than a dangerous set piece.

Osvaldo, els Banquiblaus’ most impressive player this season, was cutting an increasingly forlorn figure as the home side started to find their rhythm.

Iniesta made a statement of intent as he turned and ran at the Espanyol defence before finding room to curl a shot inside the far post. Kameni, the Cameroonian ‘keeper, was equal to the attempt on that occasion, but Barça’s stylish playmaker would find the net from a similar position a few minutes later.

This time Iniesta played a fortuitous one-two with Espanyol’s Galán, before cutting inside Amat at centre half and giving Kameni no chance. Barcelona were now in full flow, crafting a handful of chances via sublime one-touch combinations; Messi found David Villa after some delightful staccato passing, but the Asturian striker was unable to produce a finish worth of the move, guiding a close-range effort past the left post.

Barcelona had been forced to work hard for their first-half opportunities, but were handed their second goal on a platter at just after the break. Piqué was able to meet a Xavi corner unopposed and nod down to double his side’s lead.

This goal effectively killed the contest, and, after an exhausting month, Barça could be excused a couple of lapses of concentration. The slippery Osvaldo twice got the better of Piqué with the score at 2-0, but Víctor Valdés showed quick reactions on both occasions to preserve his side’s clean sheet.

Éric Abidal was then given the opportunity to continue his remarkable rehabilitation, replacing Fontàs on the 70-minute mark. With Adriano still absent the French defender will offer a much-needed option at left back, as Barcelona can now turn their attention to the final of the Champions League in Wembley at the end of the month.

1-0, Iniesta (min 29)
2-0, Piqué (min 47)


Barcelona March on to Wembley

May 4th, 2011

FC Barcelona are through to the final of the Champions League after gaining a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid with an assured second leg performance at the Camp Nou. Despite fielding a more attacking lineup than in previous Clásicos, Real Madrid were never able to put sustained pressure on what remains a relatively makeshift Barça defence.

After dominating the first half, it was the home side that took the lead when Pedro tucked the ball past Casillas to cap a fantastic team move. With the tie effectively sealed, Barcelona could afford a little carelessness, giving the ball away at the back, with Marcelo tapping home from an Ángel di María cutback.

The build up to this decisive second leg had been tempestuous in all senses of the word. After a week of blustery claim and counter-claim in the press, a real life thunderstorm broke out in the Barcelona skies, leaving plenty of surface water on the Camp Nou pitch.

Any fears that the conditions would hamper Barcelona’s passing game were quickly dispelled though, when a first-choice attacking six started zipping the ball around with characteristic style.

The visitors reduced to spectators once again. Madrid’s main contribution in the early exchanges was to ride their luck thanks to a series of rugged challenges by Ricardo Carvalho and Lassana Diarra.

When Lionel Messi drew a full-stretch save from Casillas on the 30-minute mark, Barça scented blood and created a flurry of opportunities; Villa, Pedro and Messi again all went close, with only some spectacular acrobatics by the Spain ‘keeper preventing Barcelona from extending their lead.

Perhaps revelling in the fortune of surviving this onslaught, there was renewed endeavour from the visitors after the break. Cristiano Ronaldo had his first opportunity to run at the Barcelona defence – when the Portuguese forward forced a challenge from Piqué, the ball broke for Gonzalo Higuain who curled the ball past Valdés.

Fortunately for Barcelona, referee Franck de Bleeckere had already blown up for a foul on Mascherano. Cristiano Ronaldo had rolled past Piqué onto the Argentine defender’s heels, preventing him from putting a challenge in on Higuain.

Barcelona responded almost instantly with a wonderful goal; the move started back with Víctor Valdés and culminated in a pinpoint pass by Iniesta through to Pedro Rodríguez. The winger showed no hesitation as he slotted into the bottom right corner to spark rapturous celebrations.

Now reassured by their massive advantage, Barça opted to slow the pace. But a moment of rare sloppiness at the back allowed di María to get in on goal. The Madrid winger smashed the ball off the post before directing the rebound to Marcelo who made no mistake. It was careless play by Barcelona, but would prove to be little more than a minor bump in the road.

There was still time for a heartwarming moment – Eric Abidal’s late entrance was greeted by huge cheers, as the French defender made his first appearance since recovering from a serious health scare.

1-0 Pedro (min 53)
1-1 Marcelo (min 68)


La Liga table 2010/11 – round 34

May 2nd, 2011

Barcelona retain their eight point lead over Real Madrid after both teams lost at the weekend. After last week’s Champions League clash tensions are running high, with the the return match taking place at the Nou Camp on Tuesday and Jose Mourinho apparently conceding defeat in his post match press conference rant.

Team P W D L F A Pts
1
Barcelona 34 28 4 2 89 19 88
2
Real Madrid 34 25 5 4 81 29 80
3
Valencia 34 19 6 9 57 42 63
4
Villarreal 34 18 6 10 53 40 60
5
Sevilla 34 15 7 12 52 49 52
6
Atlético Madrid 34 15 7 12 55 44 52
7
Athletic Bilbao 33 16 3 14 51 47 51
8
Espanyol 33 14 3 16 40 46 45
9
Levante 34 12 7 15 36 46 43
10
Sporting Gijón 34 10 12 12 31 37 42
11
Mallorca 34 12 6 16 35 47 42
12
Real Sociedad 34 13 2 19 45 58 41
13
Racing Santander 34 10 10 14 34 49 40
14
Málaga 34 11 6 17 47 64 39
15
Zaragoza 34 10 9 15 35 47 39
16
Osasuna 34 10 8 16 38 41 38
17
Deportivo 34 9 11 13 27 42 38
18
Getafe 34 10 7 17 44 56 37
19
Hércules 34 9 6 19 31 53 33
20
Almería 34 5 11 18 32 59 26

Barcelona Slip Against Spirited Sociedad

May 2nd, 2011

FC Barcelona fell to a 2-1 defeat at Real Sociedad on Saturday evening. The Basque team capitalised on two defensive slips to condemn Barça to a first league defeat since September and boost their own fight against relegation. Substitute Diego Ifrán tapped home from close range, and Xabi Prieto converted a penalty to cancel out Thiago’s opener for the away team.

Barça will feel also somewhat aggrieved after a legitimate Milito goal was disallowed for offside when the match was finely poised at 1-1. Despite this frustration the result means that the picture remains unchanged at the top thanks to Real Madrid’s latest home defeat, this time at the hands of Real Zaragoza.

Pep Guardiola elected to field a smattering of young Barcelona B talent ahead of the crucial Champions League semi-final second leg at the Camp Nou on Tuesday. Andreu Fontàs, Martín Montoya and Thiago all provided a glimpse of the next generation.

Barcelona were largely superior early on and fashioned two quick chances, with Messi smashing a volley just wide and Afellay forcing a smart save from ‘keeper Claudio Bravo. Montoya then had his game sadly cut short after a foul by Xabi Prieto.

There was little to trouble Pinto at the other end, apart from a half-chance for Raúl Tamudo. The former Espanyol man almost notched a goal against his old rivals, directing a lobbed Griezmann pass inches past the post.

Just before the half hour mark, the mounting Barça pressure told; Xavi fired a 20-yard pass along the ground to Messi. For once in his career the Argentine failed to bring the ball under control, but young Thiago Alcántara was quickest to react and found the back of the net via a touch from Claudio Bravo and the underside of the crossbar.

By half time it looked like Guardiola’s men were taking another comfortable step towards a third successive title, but Real Sociedad came out for the second 45 with renewed purpose. Within minutes they were looking dangerous from set pieces; Pinto half-cleared a Griezmann free kick and Estrada went just wide with a long-range volley.

Barça’s defence was starting to look a little indecisive, and this was especially evident for the Erreala equaliser. After a scramble following one of many high crosses, substitute Diego Ifrán escaped the attentions of young Andreu Fontàs to find the net with his first touch of the game.

This goal was followed by the game’s most contentious moment. Gabriel Milito stooped to head home a teasing Xavi delivery at the back post, but the assistant’s flag was raised instantly. Replays suggested the Argentine defender was level.

Real Sociedad took the lead a few minutes later when a tentative exchange of passes between Mascherano, Alves and Pinto handed dangerous possession to Sociedad. Griezmann was felled by Mascherano and Xabi Prieto stepped up to squeeze home a tame penalty.

Although the defeat was frustratingly preventable, Barça’s lead at the top still looks unassailable.

0-1, Thiago (min 29)
1-1, Ifrán (min 71)
2-1, Xabi Prieto (pen, min 82)


Messi Grabs Advantage for Barcelona

April 28th, 2011

Lionel Messi struck twice to hand FC Barcelona a massive advantage in their Champions League semi-final tie with bitter rivals Real Madrid. It was another ill-humoured Clásico, repeatedly interrupted by squabbles and niggling fouls, but come the final whistle the Blaugrana side were in a justified ascendancy, taking a 2-0 lead to next week’s match at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona had the upper hand throughout, but the game’s turning point came on the 60th minute with a red card for Pepe after a crude studs-up lunge on Dani Alves. Lionel Messi then seized the initiative, poking an Afellay cross beneath Casillas from close range, then embarking on a jinking run from the centre circle, beating five players and slotting home.

In hindsight, the build-up to this monumental first leg was a sign of things to come. Pep Guardiola had elected to stand up to Jose Mourinho by bristling at the Madrid manager’s recent provocation at Tuesday’s press conference. And this tetchy atmosphere was carried onto the Bernabéu pitch.

The first half was reminiscent of the recent confrontations between these two clubs; Barcelona were trying to set the tempo, with Pedro and Villa hugging the left and right touchlines, trying to furnish Messi and Xavi with some space against a compact Madrid formation.

Their counterparts were far less enterprising – opting instead to find Cristiano Ronaldo on the counter attack and gain territorial advantage via set pieces.

There were plenty of petty fouls followed by shrill protestations and theatrics, perhaps a consequence of Mourinho’s pre-match fixation with referees. But amid the fractious exchanges Barcelona did manage to carve a couple of notable chances.

Pulling in off the right wing, Villa cut onto his weaker left foot and curled a 20-yard effort past Casillas’ right post. Later, Messi squirmed through three challenges before slipping a clever pass to Xavi, but Barça’s captain was denied at the near post.

The half-time whistle was met with an ugly skirmish at the mouth of the tunnel. The result was a red card for Pinto, leaving Barcelona without a substitute ‘keeper for the second half.

The opening minutes of the second period picked up where the first had left off. Barça were probing and circulating the ball, while Real Madrid were lying in wait for a counter attack. There was still plenty of hostility, and a series of tit-for-tat fouls eventually culminated in Pepe’s deserved red card for his reckless challenge on Aves. Jose Mourinho’s sarcastic applause for the stricken Barça fullback was also rewarded with a sending off.

After ceding possession for an hour, Real Madrid no longer had the legs to close down space now they had to play with ten men. Chances for Villa and Pedro were followed by 15 minutes of pure magic from Lionel Messi.

After a vital first goal, he capped a glorious night for a Barça with a world-class effort that placed his team firmly in the driving seat.

0-1, Messi (min 76)
0-2, Messi (min 87)


La Liga table 2010/11 – round 33

April 25th, 2011

FC Barcelona remains eight points ahead of Real Madrid after both teams won their respective matches. Ominously – ahead of the Champions League clashes this week and next – Madrid beat third placed Valencia 6-3 but Barcelona’s 2-0 win against Osasuna rested some of Barça’s big guns

Team P W D L F A Pts
1
Barcelona
33
28
4
1
88
17
88
2
Real Madrid
33
25
5
3
79
26
80
3
Valencia
33
19
6
8
57
41
63
4
Villarreal
33
17
6
10
51
39
57
5
Athletic Bilbao
33
16
3
14
51
47
51
6
Sevilla
33
14
7
12
51
49
49
7
Atlético Madrid
33
14
7
12
54
44
49
8
Espanyol
33
14
3
16
40
46
45
9
Levante
33
12
6
15
36
46
42
10
Mallorca
33
12
6
15
35
45
42
11
Sporting Gijón
33
10
11
12
31
37
41
12
Deportivo
33
9
11
12
27
41
38
13
Real Sociedad
33
12
2
19
43
57
38
14
Getafe
33
10
7
16
43
54
37
15
Racing Santander
33
9
10
14
32
49
37
16
Málaga
33
10
6
17
44
63
36
17
Osasuna
33
9
8
16
37
41
35
18
Hércules
33
9
6
18
30
50
33
19
Zaragoza
32
8
9
15
31
45
33
20
Almería
32
5
11
16
32
57
26

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