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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.

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12.11.13 Barcelona v Celtic

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Barça only needed a point to clinch top place in their Champions League group, but did much more than against a Celtic side that was only playing for pride but was instead played off the park by an intense, ambitious display from the Catalans. After going into an early 1-0 lead and with the win already as good as settled by half-time, Barça were able to play for the crowd and regain some lost confidence, with hat-trick hero Neymar on stunning form. It was two minutes before Celtic had even touched the ball at the Camp Nou. Barça were passing it around with ease, and were soon creating problem after problem for Forster to deal with. And that was how things would stay for most of the ninety minutes, as has been the case so often in the past against the Scottish champions, who as usual opted for a highly defensive game-plan. But this time, Barça broke the deadlock early doors. After just six minutes, an opportunist Piqué pounced on the rebound after Alexis had found himself one-on-one on the keeper. 1-0. Barça had all the possession, and even though they were losing, Celtic preferred to keep it tight at the back and speculate with the occasional counter-attack or dead-ball situation. All this served to do was create a Barça onslaught on their area, although the home side were lacking the speed and definition to turn their dominance into further goals. Busquets was outstanding, Sergi Roberto and Xavi were feeding balls from all angles, and Alexis, Neymar and Pedro were all getting involved with spectacular bicycle kicks and all the works. The worrying thing, however, is that it wasn’t until the 39th minute that they finally found the net a second time, with Neymar starting the move and Pedro finishing it off. Moments later came the play of the match. Some wonderful first touch football among the midfielders ended with the ball reaching Alexis, who subtly chipped it through to Montoya. The defender could have shot himself, but instead laid on a perfect assist for Neymar. There had only really been one team on the pitch in a first half that ended 3-0. Neymar’s first ever goal in the Champions league was just the boost he needed. In the second half, he scored another peach of a goal on the back of yet another terrific combination move. For the rest of the game, Barça restrained themselves from showboating too much, knowing that this has cost them dearly in the past and that one of the most important aspects that they need to improve is holding onto leads. But there was little chance of tonight’s lead slipping away. On a freezing evening, the Camp Nou was soon chanting the name of Neymar as he went on to complete his first hat-trick in a Barça shirt. It was yet another move initiated by a flash of genius from a defender, followed by a delightful one-two to make it 5-0. A rare Barça attempt at a long ball, by Mascherano, almost led to Neymar getting his fourth of the night, but Pedro was caught offside and the move was invalidated.Tello marked his return to the team by grabbing the sixth and final goal of the night with a shot that rebounded off a defender and left Forster with no chance. But it was thanks to the Celtic keeper that Neymar failed to add any more goals to his account. As the game drew to a close, we finally started seeing a bit more life in Celtic, with Samaras heading home a consolation goal and coming close to adding a couple more. But by this stage, Barça’s biggest heroes of the night, Busquets and Neymar, were already resting on the bench. The Camp Nou gave both the ovation they deserved and was able to celebrate qualification for the last sixteen as group leaders. The Champions League returns in February, and on Monday, Barça will be finding what team they’ll be playing.

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.