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05.04.14 FC Barcelona v Real Betis

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FC Barcelona maintained their title challenge this Saturday in a rollercoaster win against a spirited Betis side fighting to avoid the drop.  The visitors provided plenty of nervous moments for the Camp Nou fans and were even on top times, but two goals from Leo Messi plus a Jordi Figueras own goal were enough to keep pace with  Atlético Madrid at the top of La Liga.  The players can now turn their attentions to the Champions League. Despite the many distractions provided by the referendum, FC Barcelona started positively, with danger coming in particular from the right wing pairing of Alves and Alexis.  And it was the Chile international who teased Betis defender Jordi Figueras into bringing him down in the penalty box.  Messi stepped up to left foot the spot kick into the centre of the net. Barça’s best phase of the match came immediately after the opening goal.   Xavi, through the middle, and Alves down the right were constant threats for the visitors but Betis fought back stubbornly and persisted in their attempts to catch Barça on the break.  They came up against Sergio Busquets in magnificent form.  The midfielder had a superb first half, tackling, spraying out passes and going past opponents in a masterful display of technique and tactical savvy that had the fans chanting his name. Betis came out after halftime looking to take the game to Barça, spurred on by their desperate situation in the league.  Xavi hit the woodwork but it proved to usher in a period of sustained Betis pressure.  Manager Gabriel Calderón reaffirmed his team’s ambition by bringing on. Jorge Molina and Rubén Castro to join Leo Baptistao in a three-pronged attack. An unfortunate own goal by Jordi Figueras – the same player who conceded the penalty against Alexis in the first half – from Adriano’s cross, threw cold water on the Betis fight back. The game took another twist three minutes later when substitute Rubén Castro made it 2-1 with twenty minutes left to go. Betis pushed hard for the equaliser but inevitably left space at the back, especially for Neymar. The Brazilian forced Amaya into handling the ball in the area and once again Messi took the spot kick.  Betis keeper Adán guessed correctly but Messi seized on the rebound to make it 3-1.

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26.03.14 FC Barcelona v RC Celta de Vigo

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 After a lightning start to the game as Barça took up from where they left off at the Bernabeu,  a nasty looking injury to Valdes stunned the Camp Nou and although Messi and Neymar ensured the win, the keeper’s injury cast a pall over the celebrations. Luis Enrique made his return to the Camp Nou with a five-man defence that included Fontas as a deep lying midfielder and with an untypical tactic of ceding possession, which allowed Barça to lay siege to the Celta area and reap the benefits within the first five minutes, as a clever move between Iniesta, Messi and Alexis ended with a simple tap in for Neymar. With Iniesta finding plenty of space through the middle to release Messi, Barça were playing elegant and incisive football which created chances for both Neymar and Messi. All the optimism took a blow on 20 minutes however, when Valdes fell awkwardly saving a free kick and immediately called for help in obvious pain, before being stretchered off. The Barça players looked shocked for a while and the rhythm dropped, before Iniesta and Messi brought a smile back to the fans’ faces on the half hour with an inch perfect move that the Argentinean finished off by rounding the keeper to double the lead. Iniesta was replaced by Sergi Roberto as a precaution at half time and with the rain coming down and the players clearly affected by the injury to Valdes, Celta took the chance to step forward after the break and Pinto was called on to make a superb double save on 52 minutes to keep the Galicians out. Cesc was unlucky to have a goal ruled out for offside just before the hour mark, but it was the visitors who looked the more likely to score, until on 67 minutes, Neymar broke down the left into the box and fired through the defenders’ legs to beat the keeper and make it three. Soon after, the Brazilian was replaced by Pedro. There was still time for drama though, as Pinto clattered into a post after a good stop from Bermejo. The crowd held their breath, but the keeper got up and went on to make two more good stops on a night that brought another win, but one tinged wth sadness for Valdes’ injury.

12.03.14 FC Barcelona v Manchester City

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FC Barcelona laid down a marker for the rest of Europe tonight, cruising through to the last eight of the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Manchester City (4-1 on aggregate) with a performance that put to bed the doubts around the team after their weekend league defeat in Valladolid. Javier Mascherano insisted before the game that Barça weren’t down and out and tonight the team proved him right with an important win over one of the strongest teams left in the competition. Both teams are used to dominating possession and City began the game looking much more comfortable on the ball than in the first leg, taking control of the first quarter of an hour before Barça imposed themselves on the game and began to create chances- the clearest of which saw Neymar score, only for the ref to rule it out for a dubious off side against Jordi Alba. In truth though, there weren’t many opportunities for either side in the first half hour – Nasri, then fired straight at Valdes after a great one-two between Silva and Toure and then Neymar had a couple of great chances, but the teams went in goalless at the break. Dzeko came on for a rusty looking Aguero at the break and City looked sharper at the start of the second half, with the Bosnian striker having a couple of opportunities to make it 0-1 early on, with Kolarov and Silva both looking dangerous. Valdes’ saves proved key and Narça hit back with a great chance for Messi, with only the woodwork denying the Argentinean. Both sides were looking for a goal now and the tempo of the game increased as City pushed forward and Barça showed their threat on the break and after Lescott fluffed a through ball from Cesc, Messi pounced to open the scoring and put Barça three up on aggregate. That goal rocked City, who were soon after reduced to ten men after Zabaleta was shown his second yellow for dissent, but the Premier League side showed they could still pose a threat when Kompany bundled the ball home for the equaliser after a knock on by Dzeko from a corner. There was never going to be time left for a shock and Iniesta set up Alves on the counter to ensure the win on the night late on and ensure that Barça go through to the last eight after two impressive wins against City. Mascherano was right – this team are certainly not down and out!

02.03.14 FC Barcelona v UD Almería

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It took until the 83rd minute for Barça to secure the three points against Almeria. The eventual 4-1 win could easily have been achieved in the first half, but some great football was only reflected by two goals, and Almeria managed to grab one of their own to add to the drama. The intensity dipped in the second half, and the win was not decided until Puyol bravely stuck home FCB’s third, with Xavi making it four in the final minutes. A win was more essential than ever after the setback at Anoeta, and the 2-2 draw in the Madrid derby was surely the best result Barça could have wished for, and they now find themselves just one point short of the lead. The evening started well. After just eight minutes, Alexis Sánchez was once again the man to break the deadlock as he extended his excellent goalscoring form this season by pouncing on a rebound off visiting keeper Esteban from a Cesc shot. Barça were playing fast, intense football, and although the finesse was not always there, they looked well in control of the match, especially down the right, where Alves and Alexis were giving full-back Dubarbier a torrid evening. Leo Messi made his mark with an extraordinary goal from a 24th minute free kick, with the ball curving brilliantly to find the precise sport that Esteban was never going to reach. Barça were well in command, but totally against the run of play, Trujillo was able to knock home a corner for Almeria, and incredibly considering the number of chances that had fallen to Neymar, Messi and Alexis, at half time the Andalusians were still in contention. Barça had enjoyed 78% of the possession and shot 14 times in the first 45 minutes. In the second, in which they lost some of their rhythm and struggled to create as many chances, things started to get unnerving. Almeria seemed capable of containing the Barça pressure and also started putting Valdés to the test. Barça desperately needed a goal to settle the result, but Neymar missed an easy chance in the 65th minute, and moments later the visiting defence managed to prevent Messi from scoring a near-certain goal. The Argentinian had had a quiet second half, but burst back into life in the final quarter of an hour. Iniesta came on in the 70th minute, which helped to retain the ball in midfield and generate more ideas up front. And the third goal finally came in the 83rd minute, with Messi out-jumping his marker to head the ball onto the bar, whereupon it fell to Puyol, who volleyed it into the back of the net. The Camp Nou could breathe again and started chanting the captain’s name. And to round off a nervy night, Xavi then scored a stunner from outside of the area to set up the final scoreline of 4-1 and ensure three absolutely crucial points for Barça’s title bid.

06.11.13 Barcelona v Milan

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Leo Messi  led FC Barcelona into the last 16 of the Champions League with the opening and final goals against Milan at the Camp Nou tonight. The first was a penalty and the second from a lovely move with Cesc. With Busquets grabbing one more in between the Argentinean’s brace,  Milan could only reply with a Piqué own goal just before the break. The three points ensure Barça are mathematically through to the last 16 of the competition, sitting five points ahead of Milan, who stay in second place. Massimiliano Allegri was true to his words on Tuesday and set up his team with a clear defensive attitude, with 9 or 10 players crammed into the final third of the pitch, Milan were happy to sit deep and wait for Barça from the off. And just as they had in San Siro, Kaká found it tough to find the space they need to create chances, as the Italians booted away possession to the hosts without ever venturing into  the Barça half. Barça weren’t making clear chances, but they kept plugging away and when Iniesta carved out a great opening for Neymar, Abate brought the Brazilian down in the box for Messi to step up and fire home the penalty for the opening goal. Barça continued to dominate possession with Xavi and Iniesta hogging the ball, whilst Neymar provided the spark – again suffering a foul that led to a goal, with Xavi crossing a free kick in for Busquets  – enjoying a great game -to head home  and double Barça’s lead. Just as the half looked like ending comfortably, Barça conceded a goal when Kaká crossed from the left and Piqué’s attempted clearance flew into the net – a goal that recalled one against Osasuna in Pamplona a couple of years ago. The goal came just on half time and was a psychological boost to Milan. With Balotelli on after the break, and with Kaká pulling the strings, Milan were now looking more ambitious – which also of course left them more vulnerable at the back. The game was opening up now, with chances – which weren’t taken – at both ends. Barça then imposed a more measured pace to the game and Iniesta brought a good save from  Abbiati  before Neymar nearly broughtthe house down with a great individual effort, beating four defenders before shooting high. Alexis could also have made it three, but it was Messi who rounded off the scoring, latching onto a  brilliant one-two with Cesc  – who’d come on for Iniesta  – to fire home and ensure a spot in the last 16.

26.10.13 Barcelona v Real Madrid

Barça- Real Madrid games always provide plenty of images that stick in the mind – this time it was not just the wonderful tribute to Tito Vilanova in the pre-match mosaic, but also Neymar’s first Clasico goal and Alexis Sanchez’s magical chip for the second. The Chilean’s 72nd minute beauty ended up being the difference between the two well matched sides, after Barça had the better of the first half with some clever play, but were seriously threatened after the break, when Valdes again pulled off some superb saves. Martino tried a new set up with Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc holding onto the ball in the middle and Messi and Neymar up top, with freedom to roam wide or come into the centre. Madrid also sprung a tactical surprise, with Carvajal at left back and Ramos pushed into midfield behind a front three of Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria, with the Welshman in an unfamiliar false number 9 role. Barça started well and were clearly heeding their boss’ warning that they had to control the ball and avoid losing possession in dangerous areas. With both sides’ defensive anchors – Busquets and Ramos both picking up early yellows, neither team looked too comfortable on the ball, with the emphasis very much on not making mistakes. Then on 18 minutes, Iniesta pounced on a loose ball just inside the Madrid half and ran at the visitors’ defence, before slipping in Neymar on the left for the Brazilian to cut inside and fire low past Diego Lopez for the opener. The Camp Nou crowd – full of banners and flags demanding Catalonia’s right to self-determination – erupted with the goal and their excitement lifted the team who upped their game a gear, with Messi almost immediately shooting just wide after escaping down the right and the Argentinean and Neymar were combining to cause plenty of problems for Madrid’s defence, as Barça stamped their style on the game. Xavi knew that it was in Barça’s interest to slow the game down and avoid any end-to-end stuff to allow them to weave their web of close passing and the Catalan midfielder was soon dictating the pace in the middle again. As the half came to an end with Barça’s superiority clear to all, Madrid gave a warning of things to come though, when Cristiano Ronaldo cut in from the left and sent a low cross in towards the onrushing Khadira, Victor Vlades was equal to the German’s point blank effort, but the rebound also came back to him off the supporting arm of Adriano, who was on the ground after his tackle on Khedira. After the break, it was Neymar who revitalised both the game and Barça, bamboozling Carvajal and bringing out a great stop from Diego Lopez with a powerful effort from the left after good work again from Iniesta. Then it was  Valdés who was called upon to once again save the team with a stunning save from a Ronaldo drive , Madrid were beginning to create in the middle now and the game began to open up – something that was always going to favour their style of play. With the yellow cards piling up and a bit of tiredness creeping in, Barça’s dominance of possession was also slipping.  Martino brought on fresh legs, with  Alexis coming on for Cesc and the side returning to a more familiar 4-3-3 shape as Madrid enjoyed their best phase of the game. Cristiano Ronaldo had a shout for a penalty turned down after a push from Mascherano and  Benzema rattled the woodwork with a shot from the edge of the box. However, once again Barça brought the game back to their pace and took control of possession to take the sting out of Madrid’s threat. And that was when Alexis popped up, picking up a long clearance deep in Madrid’s half and creating a few inches of space away from Varane to chip an inch perfect effort over the Madrid keeper and into the back of the net for the goal of the night. Alves then nearly made it three, darting down the right and nutmegging Cristiano before firing straight at Diego López. Jesé’s injury time goal – rounding off a quick counter to make it 2-1, was too little too late for the visitors and Barça played out the final couple of minutes to take the three points and stretch their lead over Madrid to six.

24.09.13 Barcelona v Real Sociedad

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Barça have equalled the club’s best ever start to a Liga campaign by making it six wins out of six after a brilliant 4-1 win against Real Sociedad. And it all happened on the day that the city was celebrating its patron saint, the Mercè festival, and in emphatic style. The first 22 minutes saw a barrage of goals from Neymar, Messi and Busquets, and from then on it was complete dominance from the home side, with the visitor’s solitary goal doing nothing to worry the Camp Nou faithful. Nevertheless, things had got off to an alarming start. In the first minute, Seferovic struck the Barça bar, and Mascherano, who ended up being substituted on the half hour, ended up grounded after being accidentally stamped on by Busquets. But having avoided that early warning call, the Catalans regrouped and set about dominating their guests in every facet of the game. Real were forced back into their own half and the chances started flowing. Neymar was outstanding with his penetrating runs from the left, and Iniesta was plethoric in an aggressive, dominant midfield in which Xavi and Busquets read every play to perfection. It was the Brazilian who first found the net after just four minutes when he pounced on a moment of uncertainty between visiting goalkeeper Bravo and his colleague Cadamuro. Just five minutes later, the same man Neymar left two men stranded before crossing for Messi to grab the second. Barça’s attacking machine was on full throttle, and the play was developing at a frantic pace. Real Sociedad looked lost, and matters weren’t helped for them when their captain Xabi Prieto went off injured after 22 minutes, to be ambitiously replaced by Aguirretxe. Busquets soon made it 3-0 with a strike from outside the area, moments after Messi had hit the bar. Barça were combining to absolute perfection, and the fans even celebrated the chances that went begging, so impressive was the footballing display before them. And even though he had very little to do this evening, the crowd also started chanting the name of Víctor Valdés in recognition of the crucial saves he’s made in recent matches. Barça weren’t holding up, and despite their healthy lead, most of the play was still deep inside the Real Sociedad half – and after the break, Messi and Neymar continued searching for further goals. Real hadn’t exactly done much to contribute to the Camp Nou’s anniversary, but did manage to grab a consolation goal after 63 minutes through De la Bella. Barça responded in precisely the right way. With only two goals in it, they slowed the pace and started taking fewer risks. Not only that, but tiredness was clearly setting in, just as Real, encouraged by the goal, starting counter attacking with increasingly greater effect as they fought to somehow find a way back into the match. They played with courage, but it was still Barça who were in command, and not too many people in the Camp Nou were worried that the game wasn’t going to end in anything other than a home win. Any hint of uncertainty soon vanished in the 75th minute Bartra, looking every bit the forward, converted a Messi cross to make it 4-1. That as good as brought the night’s activities to a conclusion, and Martino decided to bring off both Neymar and Messi for some well-earned rest. Alexis was left to run the frontline alone, and really deserved a goal in the final seconds, but his header struck the post. All in all, it was another tremendous performance from FC Barcelona, and it’s now six wins out of six in La Liga.

18.09.13 Barcelona v Ajax

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FC Barcelona have made a great start to their European campaign.  A Messi hat trick plus a Piqué header from Neymar’s corner kick sealed a convincing win for FC Barcelona in the opening game of the group stage.   Ajax started in great style but were overwhelmed as Barça grew in strength throughout the match, led by the goals of Leo Messi and the saves of Victor Valdés.  The keeper twice prevented an Ajax equaliser and then stopped a penalty with the score at 4-0. The result puts Barça at the top of their Champions League group, tied on points with AC Milan, who beat Celtic 2-0 in the San Siro.  The next match will be in Scotland, where Barça lost 2-1 a year ago. Tonight witnessed a match between two teams with the same footballing philosophy.  Ajax were not intimidated by the imposing surroundings and applied a style of football so reminiscent of Barça: a willingness to play the ball out from defence, a desire to keep possession, and pressure high up on the opposing defence.  For Barça it was an unusual experience – few teams dare to challenge Barça with such tactics in the Camp Nou itself. Although Barça did not have things all their own way in the early minutes, the first and best chances fell to Martino’s players.  Neymar Jr tested Vermeer in the Ajax goal, but the Dutch keeper handled well.  But it was Messi who broke the deadlock in the 21st minute with a free kick to the bottom left corner to make it 1-0 for FC Barcelona.  Despite the setback, Ajax kept their composure and could have had a couple goals themselves before half time.  Valdés pulled off two great saves from Van Rhijn and Duarte. Neymar Jr almost got one himself before the break but when half time arrived the result was still very much undecided. The second half was very different.  Ajax were unable to keep the ball as Barça showed a tougher and more intense side to their game.  A textbook counterattack led by Busquets ended in Messi’s second goal of the evening.  And then just four minutes later a Piqué goal put the three points almost beyond doubt, the central defender heading in from a Neymar corner. But there was more to come.  First, Messi capitalized on the sustained Barça pressure to complete his hat trick.  Then Valdés stopped a Sigthorsson penalty kick awarded for a foul by Mascherano.  The end of a great European opener for FC Barcelona.

05.05.13 Barcelona v Betis Sevilla

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Terzultimo appuntamento casalingo della Liga BBVA per il FC Barcelona che dopo la cocente eliminazione dalla Campions League per mano del Bayern (7 goal incassati in due partite e nessuno segnato) riceve il Betis. La Liga é ormani chiusa visto il distacco dal Real Madrid peró ancora manca la matematica a sancire il trionfo azulgrana. La partita é davvero piacevole, 6 reti e un match giocato a viso aperto da entrambe le squadre, cosa abbastanza insolita visto che chi viene a giocare al Camp Nou suole praticare un catenaccio incredibile. Stadio mezzo vuoto e come sempre in silenzio, molti i tifosi Betici in trasferta, la sezione di BarnaBetis é presente e si notano molte maglie biancoverdi in tutto lo stadio. Da sottolineare uno strepitoso gol di Messi su calcio di punizione, é davvero l’uomo in piú, quello che fa la differenza e la sua presenza si nota sempre anche in una squadra molto ben attrezzata come il Barça.

01.05.13 Barcelona v Bayern Munich

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Notte da incubo per la tifoseria catalana dopo la tremenda sconfitta dell’andata all’ Allianz Arena di Monaco. Dover rimediare al 4-0 subito in una semifinale di Champions League é un’impresa davvero titanica soprattutto se il rivale é solido e forte come il Bayern Monaco e se il Barça non brilli come negli ultimi anni. Questa volta l’ambiente non é cosí sicuro della “remuntada” come col Milan negli ottavi. Per prima cosa i tedeschi hanno dimostrato durante il campionato una forza e una costanza incredibili e a parte questo in nessun momento sono caduti nella trappola di accontentarsi del risultato. Il Barça é una squadra molto forte, nonostante sia alla fine di un ciclo, peró credo che l’atteggiamento dei rivali sia quello che li abbia aiutati a diventare i mostri che si dice siano. Raramente ho visto squadre venire qua a giocarsela e non a difendersi…e quelli che lo hanno fatto non sempre sono usciti sconfitti. La partita in se ha poca storia, i padroni di casa entrano in campo decisamente demotivati, con Messi addirittura in panchina, gli unici che si sono salvati sono stati Adriano e Bartra, mentre gli altri sembravano fin svogliati. Il Bayern é arrivato non solo forte dei 4 goal segnati all’andata, ma anche di una sicurezza e una solidità incredibile…hanno aspettato i padroni di casa e li hanno infilati per 3 volte senza pietà, con la possibilitá di rendere ancora piú rotondo il punteggio. 7 goal subiti in due partite, questo é il bottino del Barça che saluta la Champions League meritatamente ma con la consapevolezza di poter essere di nuovo protagonisti tra pochi mesi.