Monday, April 4, 2011

Big Weekend for Barca

With a 1 - Nil victory over Villareal, coupled with the shocking home loss of Real Madrid to Sporting Gijon on Friday, FC Barcelona advanced into a command position to defend their Spanish League championship this past weekend.  Barcelona now has an eight-point lead over Real Madrid, with only eight games remaining in the regular season.  It's looking grim for Real Madrid's chances to overtake Barca.

This match was especially noteworthy for the wide use of Barca's deep bench, as Pep Guardiola took a deliberate risk in resting some his key players for important pending matches.  Suspended playmaker Xavi took a rest, as did Lionel Messi until the second half, when he came in a s a substitute.  Ibrahim Afellay and Thiago each won a start, and Victor Valdes filled in as team Captain for Carles Puyol.

Despite the close score, Barca dominated.  Villareal managed only three shots on goal the whole match, which Valdes efficiently closed down.  Barca's patented tiki-taka telepathic ball-control style of play was perhaps not quite as telepathic as usual, but even so they still scored in the 67th minute.  Gerard Pique took a crossed ball from Sergio Busquets on the wing, and fired the ball into the goal from close range, and that was the match. 

After the match, Pep Guardiola issued the obligatory cautionary note of premature celebration, saying that "If we think we are champions already, we’ll lose the league.  If we see ourselves as champions with an eight point lead and eight games still to play- we can only lose it.”  As you say, coach.

Later this week Barca returns to Champions League play, when they host Ukrainian side Shaktar Donetsk at Camp Nou for the first leg of the quarter-finals of the tournament.  Barca then return to La Liga play next weekend against bottom-feeing Almeria, and after that a series of encounters with Real Madrid awaits, starting with the next edition of El Clasico on April 17th and possibly extending into semi-final play of the Champions League.  Barca will be busy the net few weeks.