Penya Barcelonista de Lisboa

diumenge, d’abril 03, 2011

La Liga - Barca battle to win to go eight clear

La Liga - Barca battle to win to go eight clear

Gerard Pique helped Barcelona shrug off the absence of several key players to beat Villarreal 1-0 at El Madrigal, going eight points clear at the top of La Liga. Earlier second-placed Real Madrid surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Sporting Gijon but Barca made sure that they did not slip up against far superior opposition in Villarreal, showing Los Merengues how to make the most of an under-strength side as Pique finished with aplomb after a corner on 67 minutes. Barca dominated possession but also have goalkeeper Victor Valdes to thank after he made three excellent saves, the final one coming late on as he somehow kept out Santi Cazorla’s low finish with his legs. Like Madrid, who were without Xabi Alonso among others, Barca were missing their heartbeat in Xavi; like Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo, their talisman was also absent - but Lionel Messi came off the bench early in the second half as Barca turned the screw. Initially Barca’s makeshift line-up - Sergio Busquets played as a defender and youngster Thiago started in midfield - seemed to cause them problems as the normally dominant Blaugrauna struggled to create the chances their possession deserved. Villarreal, meanwhile, were only too happy to play counter attack, regularly exploiting Busquets’s unfamiliarity with playing centre-back as on two occasions brilliant passes from Cazorla split the defence in two: both times Giuseppe Rossi was denied by brilliant goalkeeping from Valdes. The hosts were happy to mix it up too, as Javier Mascherano found out when opposite number Bruno left two neatly-positioned stud-marks on his knee: Bruno was booked and, while Barca felt the colour should have been red, replays showed he actually got the ball. Barca, as usual, had close to 70 per cent possession but they only created one clear-cut chance in the first 45 minutes, when David Villa was denied a clear finish by a wonderful last-ditch tackle from Juan Catala. The second half was a different story as Barca attacked with vigour while - mostly - Villarreal barely got a sniff. Ibrahim Afellay had a shot blocked and Villa drove just wide before Messi, who had been nursing a slight groin injury, was brought into the fold. While he was not directly involved in the goal, the Argentine gave Barca more of a spearhead to their attacks as Villarreal became increasingly stretched. Eventually the pressure told although the breakthrough came from an unlikely source, as Barca’s lack of height seemed to count against them at set pieces: with Seydou Keita off, only two tall players remained on the pitch but they combined perfectly as Pique met Busquets’s flick-on and rifled his finish into the roof of the net. Messi almost grabbed a second, denied a superb curling free-kick by Diego Lopez’s cat-like agility, while down the other end Valdes made a show-stopping save after Cazorla though he had equalised. Valdes and Busquets picked up fifth yellow cards of the season for time wasting that conveniently rule them out of the match against Almeria but ensure their presence for El Clasico as Barca closed out arguably their biggest win of the season. Reda Maher / Eurosport


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