FC Barcelona registered a 2-0 win against Real Mallorca to temporarily cut the gap at the top to just three points. Pep Guardiola opted for a 3-4-3 and Mallorca started well, but Barcelona took the lead around the half-hour mark, with Lionel Messi’s free-kick from long-range finding its way into the corner of the net, missing both Sergio Busquets and Alexis Sanchez in the process. Thiago was sent off just before the hour for a debatable handball incident, but Barcelona continued to keep possession and Gerard Pique’s late goal secured all three points after Messi hit the post.
Bearing in mind the shortage of full-backs, Guardiola reverted back to the 3-4-3, with Carles Puyol partnering Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique. Clearly, Pep wants the four man defense for Milan, although it’s surprising why he didn’t start with Martin Montoya given that Alves will be available for Wednesday.
As a result of the 3-4-3, Barca had their typical adjustment period, and in that time, mallorca were the better team. However, they never really threatened Valdes’ goal, and that would cost them later on. The first shot on target went to one Lionel Messi (don’t act so surprised!) after a mistake by the Mallorca defense. However, the Argentine genius couldn’t convert with his shot.
The breakthrough came on the 24th minute, and the goal has been officially credited to Lionel Messi, although even after numerous replays, I’m still not sure who got the final touch. Messi’s free-kick was from all of 35 yards out, and was a clear cross. However, Sergio Busquets mistimed his jump and missed the ball. This allowed the ball to run through towards Alexis Sanchez, but the Chilean also seemed to miss the ball, and the goal was eventually credited to Messi. That was his 35th La Liga goal of the season, breaking the record he equalled last season.
Andres Iniesta who has having a poor first half by his standards did show a glimpse of his undoubted skill as he went for goal and his shot was deflected out for a corner kick. To be honest, very little happened in the first half, and Alexis Sanchez’ deflected effort that hit the underside of the bar was the only other real talking point in an average half for the Blaugrana.
The second half wasn’t much better. Messi had the first real chance of the half, but his free kick was poorly executed and went well wide of the goal. Then came the moment of controversy. Thiago, having already been booked blocked a pass, and the referee stopped play only to show Thiago his second yellow for handball. However, it clearly hit Thiago in the shoulder, and his hands/arms were in a natural position by his side. It was a very harsh decision, and completely wrong in my eyes.
Luckily, a man disadvantage doesn’t really impact on Barcelona, and they created the first chance after the sending off. Pedro was playing badly, but his workrate could not be faulted. This time, he closed down a Mallorca defender in the area and stabbed the ball back for Messi, who sent a shot towards goal, but ended up missing the target and finding the side netting instead. Pep made a couple of changes soon after, introducing Martin Montoya as he switched back to a four-man defense, and then Seydou Keita for Pedro.
Both substitutes were smart decisions, but Montoya went on to save Barcelona’s ass a number of times by heading the ball clear at the far post on two separate occasions. Iniesta was starting to find his feet after a poor first half, and had the audacity to try and pass the ball into the bottom corner, and might well have succeeded, but his effort was blocked for a corner.
With a little over ten minutes left, some Barca fans were starting to get nervous, until Pique made sure of the points. Carles Puyol was the architect bizarrely enough, passing the ball to Messi, who turned and hit the post with his shot. As if Puyol’s presence in the final third wasn’t crazy enough, his defensive partner Gerard Pique was the one following in for the rebound, to score his second of the season.
There was time remaining for Tomer to have a great chance at a consolation, but Montoya got across in time to make a crucial block. In fact, Montoya could have scored himself in the dying seconds after Messi played him through, but he tried to square it for Tello, with the cross hitting a Mallorca defender and nearly into the net. Luckily for Mallorca, it would have gone for a corner, but the referee called a halt to proceedings. Barcelona cut the gap to three, but all signs hint that it will remain at six points this week at least. Onto AC Milan!