La Liga: Deportivo La Coruña 4-5 FC Barcelona: Match Review

David Ramos

A recap of Barcelona's epic 5-4 victory over Deportivo La Coruna at the Riazor. Undoubtedly the highlight of the evening from Barca's perspective was Messi's hat-trick, but there will be concerns over the Blaugrana's defensive troubles.

Despite racing into an early 3-0 lead courtesy of goals from Jordi Alba, Cristian Tello and Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona were forced to hold on for a valuable 5-4 victory at the Riazor as Deportivo La Coruna put up a spirited performance to fight back three times against their table-topping visitors. Pizzi started the initial comeback with a well-taken penalty as Alex Bergantiños reduced the deficit to a single goal – thanks to a massive error from Victor Valdés. Lionel Messi restored Barcelona’s two-goal lead with his second prior to the interval, but Pizzi struck again soon after the break to make it 4-3 to the visitors. Javier Mascherano received his marching orders for a second yellow card soon after as Deportivo pushed for an equaliser before Messi looked to have secured the three points with his third of the evening and Barcelona’s fifth on the 77th minute but Jordi Alba’s own goal ensured that there was a nail-biting ending to what was a truly epic match.

Deportivo

Barcelona

Possession

33%

67%

Total Shots

13

10

Shots on Target

8

6

Pass Accuracy

81%

92%

Fouls

13

15

Offsides

4

1

Yellow Cards

4

2

Red Cards

0

1

Tito Vilanova made four changes to the team that held Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw just two weeks ago, with Martin Montoya, Alex Song, Cristian Tello and David Villa forcing their way into the starting XI ahead of Dani Alves, Adriano Correia, Pedro Rodriguez and Xavi Hernández. Despite the changes, it was a strong selection by Tito Vilanova; surely too much for struggling Depor?

It didn’t take long for Barcelona to emphasis the gulf in class as they quickly settled into possession and took the lead within three minutes of kick-off. It was a glorious passing move; absolutely vintage stuff from Barcelona and it all culminated in Cesc Fàbregas slipping the ball through the Deportivo defense to find the run of Jordi Alba who made no mistake with the finish. It was a composed finish from the former Valencia man, although that shouldn’t come as a surprise given his impressive goal-scoring record for the Spanish national team. Whatever the case, Barcelona were ahead and looking dominant at the Riazor.

As it happened, they didn’t have to wait long for their second either as Cristian Tello doubled Barcelona’s lead in the eighth minute. Once again, it was another great Barca move as the Catalans worked the ball up and across the pitch where Lionel Messi found Tello in space. The Spaniard may have been starting in a somewhat unfamiliar position on the right-hand side, but he looked like a natural, toying with the Deportivo defenders before slotting the ball through Aranzubia’s legs and into the back of the net.

Clearly, Deportivo were shell-shocked. They knew it was going to be difficult, they knew that they were up against it, but no-one could have quite anticipated just how tough it was going to be. 2-0 down with less than ten minutes played quickly became 3-0 before the twenty minute mark as Lionel Messi joined the party with a goal of his own – and what a goal it was. Javier Mascherano brought the ball out of defense to feed Cesc Fàbregas who sensed Messi’s run and set up the shot with a delightful back-heel. The weighting on the unorthodox lay-off was perfect and Messi smashed the ball past the helpless Aranzubia to make it three.

At that point, you could be forgiven for thinking that the game was over – after all, that should have been the killer blow. This was Barcelona with a three-goal advantage against a side languishing in the relegation zone. This match should have been over, but credit to Depor, it wasn’t over by some margin.

It was almost as though that third goal brought the home side to life; they were staring down what could have become a humiliating score-line – at the Riazor no less – and they were not going to simply roll-over and let Barcelona coast their way to victory. Quite the opposite in fact, Depor were going to try and make the Blaugrana as uncomfortable as possible: for a while, that plan worked excellently.

Prior to the match, even Deportivo’s official website stated that the hosts were planning to sit back and strike on the counter; so, when Deportivo did start to create chances they obviously came directly after Barcelona lost possession. Surging forward in transition, Oltra’s side were looking dangerous and thanks to a particularly good run from Riki they caused a little panic in the Barca defense. Sergio Busquets was the first to attempt a wild sliding challenge and he came no-where the ball or the player, then Mascherano went flying in and brought the veteran Spaniard down. Did the Argentine make contact just outside the box? Perhaps, but it didn’t matter as referee Jose Paradas pointed to the spot and Pizzi reduced the deficit.

But even at 3-1, the game was as good as over. Deportivo were looking good in attack, but were creating little in the way of clear-cut chances, so what, or more specifically who, did Barcelona have to fear? Riki? Nope. Pizzi? Not really. Valeron? Not a chance; it was Victor Valdés who made yet another high-profile mistake to gift Deportivo with a way back into the game. There was no real chance as the ball fell to Alex Bergantiños on the volley, but when your goalkeeper cannot make a simple save, everything becomes a lot more threatening. Bergantiños watched in delight as Valdés spilled his weak attempt into the bottom corner – from 3-0 down; Depor had pulled it back to 3-2. Was the comeback on?

Well, the comeback may have been on, but Lionel Messi didn’t get the memo and quickly restored Barcelona’s two-goal cushion with a right-footed shot finding the far corner of the net after anther world-class assist from Cesc Fàbregas. Heading into the break Barcelona had a 4-2 lead in what was turning out to be the match of the season so far. Would there be more twists and turns after the break, or would the Blaugrana be able to pull away and coast to victory?

Just like the first-half, we were treated to an early goal in the second, but this time round it was the hosts who found the score-sheet. Pizzi got the goal, his second of the afternoon, and just like the first, he found the net from a dead ball situation. It may have been two weeks overdue for some, but it was a Portuguese winger scoring direct from a free-kick against Barcelona – and what a sumptuous strike it was from Pizzi. He must have been a good 25-30 yards from goal, but he went for the top=-corner anyway and Valdés – try as he might – couldn’t claw the ball away. From 0-3 to 3-4 via a 2-3, this was a "super" comeback from "SuperDepor" and it quickly gained more momentum as Javier Mascherano received his marching orders for a second yellow card. It’s safe to say that Riki exaggerated the contact – if there was any contact to begin with – but the referee didn’t hesitate in producing the second-yellow and of course a red, meaning that Barcelona were down to ten men. After starting the evening so brightly it was threatening to all go wrong for the Blaugrana and with Atletico hot on their heels, they couldn’t afford any further slip-ups if they were to keep hold of top spot.

Naturally, Tito Vilanova made a few changes, even if they were a little unorthodox. Taking the field were Pedro Rodriguez, Xavi Hernández and Adriano, with David Villa, Cristian Tello and surprisingly Cesc Fàbregas making way. Deportivo responded with changes of their own and a stand-off ensued. Neither side really threatened the other; both were looking nervous, as if they couldn’t dare to over-commit in attack in case it lead to their demise. But then Lionel Messi happened again. Quite simply, there should be a verb named after the little man – Deportivo got Messi-ed – there is no other way to describe it. Xavi gave him the ball, but with his back to goal, some 40 yards from goal, there was no way he could do anything of note...right?

Wrong. Demonstrating tremendous strength and balance to stay on his feet and in possession of the ball, Messi turned one defender, accelerated towards another two or three, dropped a shoulder and picked out the far bottom corner with his left foot. It was his third of the evening, and Barcelona’s fifth, but above all else it should have been the goal that secured the three points. However – yep, you guessed it – this match wasn’t over yet as Deportivo reduced the deficit to a single goal AGAIN. Well, when I say Deportivo, I actually mean Jordi Alba as the Spaniard – who had played well on the left-hand side of defense – somehow managed to lift the ball over Victor Valdés and into the back of the net. Just when you thought you could relax, this match took yet another twist. It really was edge of the seat stuff at the Riazor, but Barcelona held out for what could be a very valuable three points. Next up is a home match with Celtic in the UEFA Champions League; can Barcelona make it three wins from three in their UCL group on Tuesday? Join us then to find out. Visca el Barca!

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