Monday, January 30, 2012

Barca Drops More Points


"When Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw in the Catalan derby at Espanyol earlier this month, Pep Guardiola and his players preached positivity. There is a long way to go, they said: Over half the league was left to claw back Real Madrid's five-point advantage.
But that five-point margin is now a deficit of seven and the champions now have less than half of the league to overhaul their fiercest rivals.

Barca had looked so impressive as they thrashed Malaga 4-1 in their last away fixture in La Liga, with Lionel Messi bagging a brilliant hat-trick. That, along with the 2-1 win at Madrid in the Copa del Rey 10 days ago, appeared to have banished the Catalan's away-day blues.

However, Saturday night's goalless game at Villarreal was about as bad as it has been for Guardiola's side this season - and not even Messi could save them from another disappointment on their travels.

That's 13 points dropped now for Barca in the league this term, already two more than in the whole of last season. And if Madrid - who beat Zaragoza 3-1 earlier on Sunday - can match their haul of 49 from the first 19 fixtures, the Catalans will need to win all of their remaining 18 games to claim a fourth successive title. Impossible, surely, even for this spectacular side."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Messi Crushes Malaga


"Lionel Messi scored a rare header in his hat-trick on Sunday to lead Barcelona to a 4-1 win at Malaga, keeping the pressure on Spanish leaders Real Madrid, who later stayed five points clear at the top with a 4-1 win over 10-man Athletic Bilbao.

Messi started the rout in the 33rd minute and then added two more after Alexis Sanchez had doubled the lead at the start of the second half. The Argentina forward now has 22 goals this season so far in just 19 appearances.

Despite Pep Guardiola's side's strong showing, the hosts were the more threatening side in the early going. Before 20 minutes had passed, Isco had three chances in the space of two minutes, but Victor Valdes saved each acrobatically to keep the contest scoreless.

Barcelona have struggled away from home this season, with just one win in their previous four outings. But once Messi found the net for just the second time on the road this campaign, the hosts had little trouble making Malaga look like the team they were before a 60-million-Euros overhaul in the off-season.

Andres Iniesta passed to Adriano out wide and he squared for Messi to guide a graceful header past diving goalkeeper Willy Caballero in the 33rd. The Fifa Ballon d'Or winner finished powerfully into the left side of the net, beating the outstretched arms of Caballero. It was Messi's first headed goal in the league this season and just his 10th-ever for Barcelona out of 216 goals.

"(Messi's) greatest virtue is his consistency," Guardiola said. "He has been playing at such a high level for a long time. These goals will help him in the games to come."

Barcelona made short work of Malaga after half-time as the visitors improved, with Alexis Sanchez pouncing on the rebound following a shot by Thiago Alcantara and firing inside the top of the goal in the 48th.

As special as his first goal was, the second was pure Messi. The three-time Ballon D'Or winner put the result beyond doubt three minutes later when he recovered the ball in Malaga territory, skirted through a swarm of reeling defenders and slotted a left-footed strike into the left corner.

He hit the crossbar from a free kick in the 75th but was not to be denied seven minutes later when he charged down the left flank, rode a defender's tackle and beat Caballero with a light touch of his left foot to send the ball bouncing into the far side of the net.

"There is a long way to go, all the second half of the season, and we will keep pushing all the way," Messi said."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Barca Over Betis 4 - 2


"Barcelona squandered a two-goal lead before seeing off 10-man Real Betis 4-2 to cut Real Madrid’s lead at the top of La Liga back to five points on Sunday.

Two goals from Lionel Messi and a goal apiece from Xavi and Alexis Sanchez fired them to the victory after Ruben Castro and Roque Santa Cruz had levelled.

Betis had Mario Vazquez sent off with the score at 2-2 with 20 minutes remaining and Barca never looked back.

Now the focus is turned to the Spanish Cup on Wednesday when the two giants face each other in the first leg of a quarter-final tie.

Real Madrid had came from behind on Saturday to win 2-1 at Mallorca with late goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon.

“The cup is a different competition so we have to change our mentality. What we do know is we will go all out to get through the tie,” said Xavi.

“We have no doubts about our play, although we know we can play better or worse than tonight. Our philosophy is always the same, we go out to attack. We were eight points behind Madrid and Betis made it difficult for us because they wanted the ball.”

Barca coach Pep Guardiola added of Wednesday’s game: “It’s always good to go into a game on the back of a win, but we know who we are up against and we’ll try to play the best game we can.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Barca Draws Espanyol 1-1

From SB Nation:

"Three wins, four draws and one loss. Just 12 goals for and nine goals against in eight games. This sounds like it could be the road record of a Europa League contender, but it is instead the road record of mighty Barcelona. The reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League title holders have taken just 13 out of a possible 24 points on the road through 17 rounds of play in La Liga.

Compare that to title contenders Real Madrid.  Los Merengues have a record of 7-1-1 on the road, with 27 goals for and just five goals against. Four of those five goals were conceded in matches away to Valencia and Sevilla. They shut out Malaga on the road. They also recorded a 4-0 victory away to Espanyol, Barcelona's Catalonia rivals.

Los Cules dropped another two road points on Sunday in a 1-1 draw against Espanyol, and it can hardly be called a lucky point for the hosts. Not only did they play very good football that was deserving of a draw, but it was a repeat of what the viewing public has seen from Barcelona throughout the season. Away from the Camp Nou, a draw is the most likely result for Barcelona, a characteristic that isn't exactly befitting of the best team in the world.

What's gone wrong for Barcelona on the road? Obviously, it's impossible to pick out any one thing. A team of Barcelona's talent doesn't simply stop playing great football and stop scoring goals because of one singular factor, though there is one giant elephant in the room regarding Lionel Messi and his teammates' inability to step up when he isn't at his best.

It's important to separate out what went wrong in the Espanyol game and what has gone wrong in previous poor road performances. First of all, there was an inherent formation issue for Barcelona on Sunday. Not to harp on formations too much, because they are not the be-all, end-all of football and they had less to do with the outcome of the game than individual performances, but it's worth mentioning.

However, the blame for this draw will not fall on Carles Puyol or Pep Guardiola. Instead, the man who is likely to catch the majority of the criticism in the papers is Lionel Messi. Depending on how one looks at it, this could be abysmal or absolutely perfect timing. Messi is all but set to capture the Ballon d'Or on Monday as the best player in the world during the calendar year 2011. A number of Messi detractors say that he has better teammates around him than Cristiano Ronaldo or any other major star outside of Spain's big two, and that his goal and assist tallies are inflated as a result.

When someone reaches the heights that Messi has reached, both in his personal statistical tallies and in his success with his team, there must be a brigade of people who find every reason to detract from their accomplishments. After what happened on Sunday and what's happened over the first half of the La Liga season, it's astonishing that these people have any ammunition.

Messi was not at his best on Sunday. He was by no means poor, but he was certainly average. When Lionel Messi is average, Barcelona are usually average. Sometimes, they need him to be truly spectacular to squeak out the minimum acceptable result. As good as his co-Ballon d'Or finalist Xavi is and as good as the rest of their teammates are, Barcelona depends as much on Messi as any team depends on one player.

As long as Lionel Messi is simply very good and not playing like the best player in the world, Barcelona will look very good, but nothing like the best team in the world. Regardless of the result of the first edition of El Clasico, that's a title currently reserved for Los Merengues, who look like they can lose the second Clasico outright and still win the league.

Barcelona return home to face Real Betis next week, a match which they will probably win with relative ease. Their following two matches are away to Malaga and Villareal. They are tough tests, but also games that Barcelona need to win if they want to say they are currently as good as their title rivals. If Barcelona finish with anything but nine points out of their next three matches, the title could belong to Madrid in January."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Barca Advances in King's Cup

From IBN Live:

A dominant Barcelona side romped to an easy 4-0 win over Osasuna at Camp Nou in the first leg of their round of 16 Copa del Rey encounter.

Despite some notable absentees in the form of David Villa and Andres Iniesta, and with Lionel Messi initially confined to the bench with flu Barcelona were in full control of this game after just 20 minutes courtesy of a finely-taken brace from Cesc Fabregas. However Messi still managed to have a considerable impact on the game by scoring the third and fourth goals for his side.

To their credit the away side set out to match their illustrious opponents by pushing men forward early on, and did manage to work the ball into a number of promising positions early on but failed to force Pinto into making any notable saves.

However after a heavy period of pressure Barcelona eventually took the lead when Cesc Fabregas finished off a fine team move from inside the area after being played in by Xavi...

Messi was introduced around the hour mark as Pep Guardiola looked to take a comfortable lead to Osasuna's formidable Reyno de Navarra next week.

It only took him 13 minutes to get on the scoresheet however, as he unusually rose highest in a crowded penalty area to emphatically head home Xavi's cross midway through the second half.

The diminutive Argentine then completed the rout, making it 4-0 with a curling finish from the edge of the area after Xavi had again unlocked the Osasuna defence with a well-weighted through ball.

Barcelona travel to Osasuna on January 12 for the second leg of this tie, but, after their comfortable victory this evening they may already have one eye on a potential quarter-final clash against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid who themselves take a 3-2 lead to Malaga ahead of their second leg.