FC Barcelona put in a professional performance to see off the threat of Segunda B2 leaders Alaves, running out comfortable 3-0 winners at the Mendizorroza. David Villa broke the deadlock in the 39th minute with a thunderous left-footed strike after a delightful pass from Andrés Iniesta sent El Guaje through on goal, and Villa returned the favour soon after the break, finding Iniesta in space on the edge of the area where the Best Player in Europe caressed the ball into the top corner of Iturrioz’ net. Barca made a number of changes after that goal, allowing Sergio Busquets and the two goal-scorers some well-deserved rest and despite creating a number of chances, the Catalans left it late to score their third, as Cesc Fàbregas turned in a sumptuous Dani Alves cross.
Despite leaving five first team regulars back in Catalunya, Tito Vilanova named a strong starting XI, as Jose Manuel Pinto shook off a bruised arm to start in goal. Both Dani Alves and Martin Montoya started in defense with Javier Mascherano and Marc Bartra in support, as Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Andrés Iniesta started in midfield. David Villa and Alexis Sanchez formed two thirds of the attack, allowing Cesc Fàbregas to start in the usual "Messi role". Would Fàbregas extend his recent run of good form and emulate the Argentine?
Barcelona started fairly well, settling into possession a lot quicker than they did against Rayo Vallecano and as a result, they created a couple of early chances with Alexis Sanchez the clear standout performer in those early exchanges. Within a minute of the opening whistle he was causing problems in the Alaves area and by the 15 minute mark he had created one chance with a spell-binding run and came close to scoring another. Starting with the run, the Chilean merely did what he does best – powering past the Alaves defender to create space for a low cross although there were was no-one there to capitalise on the chance. The second chance was created by Dani Alves, as the Chilean rose to meet the Brazilian’s cross from the right-hand side. However, Alexis’ header lacked any real power and therefore he couldn’t cause Alaves keeper Iturrioz any real problems.
While Alves’ return to the side wasn’t entirely expected, it was certainly benefitting the side as the Brazilian fired in a number of good crosses from the right-wing. With Isaac Cuenca still injured, this is very much an area that Barcelona lack in so Alves was making a huge impact on the overlap. He was constantly finding space, constantly looking for targets in the area and he even tested the keeper with one particularly threatening cross. Although there was no imminent danger to Iturrioz’ goal, the cross simply couldn’t be allowed to rocket across the six-yard box so Iturrioz parried it and was lucky that Barca didn’t pounce on his error. Alexis Sanchez did have a half-chance moments later as Alaves struggled to clear their lines, but his right-footed effort looked to be heading wide, even before the Alaves keeper made sure with a fine diving save.
Despite the plethora of chances for the visitors, Alaves were putting up a good fight and even took the game to Barcelona when they felt they could get away with it. The defense may have looked a little shaky, but for the most part they were unchallenged and Barca continued forward in search of the break-through. While it was nice to have Alves back, it was disheartening to see the left-flank basically ignored, and when Tito addressed that "problem", Barcelona improved and got a much-needed goal to break the deadlock. The warning signs were there: Alexis Sanchez had just gone close with a long-range effort after cutting in from the left, but Alaves wouldn’t be so lucky when David Villa finally made his mark on the match. It took a beautiful pass from Andrés Iniesta to find El Guaje in space, but when he did, Villa instantly made Alaves pay, striking the ball past Iturrioz into the back of the net, via the underside of the goal. It may have taken nigh-on 40 minutes for Barca to break the deadlock, but with that goal they were sure to press on and extend their advantage after the break. At the half, it was Alaves 0-1 FC Barcelona.
Tito didn’t make a change at the break, trusting his starters to push on after the breakthrough, but in truth it was Alaves who started the better side. Some chaotic defending from the Blaugrana could have gifted the hosts an equaliser but Marc Bartra stepped in to make a crucial intervention before Martin Montoya finally cleared the danger. Guzman then came close, firing a shot at goal after cutting in from the right-hand side, but he couldn’t hit the target with Montoya making his life exceptionally difficult and if you want to beat Barcelona, you simply cannot afford to waste chances like that.
After supplying Villa with an assist for the game’s opening goal, Iniesta got himself on the scoresheet and funnily enough, it was Villa who returned the favour. In truth, his pass was no-where near as impressive as the pass he received from Iniesta, but that’s the thing – when you’re passing to a genius, they can turn even the most mediocre pass into something special. Iniesta is widely considered to be one of the forerunners for the upcoming FIFA Ballon d’Or and he exhibited why with this goal. Taking the shot first-time, Iniesta lifted his head, picked his spot and caressed the ball into the top corner of Iturrioz’ net – a glorious finish from a world-class player.
The goal prompted Tito to make his first change of the night as Alex Song replaced Sergio Busquets at pivote, and Barca should have extended their lead around the 55 minute mark – indeed it looked as though they had as Alexis Sanchez was on hand at the back-post to convert Villa’s low cross, but the assistant referee (incorrectly) flagged for offside. At this point, Alexis must have wondered exactly what more he needs to do to break his goal-scoring duck – he’s putting in the work, getting into the right places but lady luck just isn’t on his side. Iniesta created a similar chance a couple of minutes later, fizzing a pass across the Alaves goal, but with too much power on the cross the ball escaped the reach of the onrushing David Villa.
Vilanova made his final two changes, as Cristian Tello and Jonathan Dos Santos saw some game-time, replacing the goal-scorers David Villa and Andrés Iniesta respectively. Alexis continued his quest for a much-needed morale-boosting goal and Iturrioz had to be alert to deny the Chilean who struck a couple of powerful shots at his near post. Iturrioz sprung into action with less than five minutes remaining to deny Cristian Tello what could have been a superb individual goal, leaping to his left to parry Tello’s curling shot, but he could do nothing about Barcelona’s third as Dani Alves finally got his reward for a productive game down the right-hand side, providing Cesc Fàbregas with an easy header to notch a well-deserved assist. Alaves did threaten to reduce the deficit with the final kick of the match, but it wasn’t to be, and this result will surely be enough to secure Barcelona a place in the next round. Next up Barcelona host Celta Vigo, as the Blaugrana return to league action on Saturday evening. Visca el Barca!