FC Barcelona coasted to a 4-0 win over Javier Aguirre's Real Zaragoza side at the Camp Nou on Saturday evening. Gerard Pique got the breakthrough goal after Xavi's freekick, and Lionel Messi doubled the advantage just before half-time. Carles Puyol added a third on 54 minutes and David Villa rounded off the scoring with a diving header in the last 15 minutes. Next up is AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League.
Pep Guardiola chose not to rest Lionel Messi for the visit of Real Zaragoza, also opting for many of the Spanish contingent in the starting eleven, so Zaragoza may have been a little optimistic at kick-off. It has often been said that Barcelona are at their weakest after an international break, but this was a must-win game. Would the performance match?
Barcelona started off a little slowly, keeping possession as usual and pressing high up the field trying to force this Zaragoza side into a mistake. The first chance was created by Isaac Cuenca who returned to the starting line-up and it was his cross into the area that evaded Lionel Messi, but fell to Alexis Sanchez. One would have expected the Chilean to have tested Roberto, but he scuffed his shot back across goal.
Carles Puyol rose highest at a corner soon after, but his header was off-target. However, Barcelona were having some joy in the air, and this was accentuated just a minute later. Xavi was standing over a free-kick on the left-wing, whipped in a delightful cross to the unmarked Gerard Pique and the Spaniard headed home the first of the evening. Hardly a Barcelona-like goal, but they all count the same.
Zaragoza tried to fight back, and like Athletic Bilbao before them, they tried to attack the Blaugrana with a cutback, but Postiga’s shot was blocked by Pique. Barcelona regained control of possession, slowed the tempo just a little before raising it to a crescendo near half-time. Lanzaro and Effrain Juarez were booked for rash challenges and Barca started to create chance after chance.
Isaac Cuenca received the ball in a central position, but instead of shooting he played in Messi and one-on-one with Roberto you would have bet your house on him scoring. Trying a little dink, Messi was denied by the Zaragoza keeper and after a little run he hit the side netting in the same passage of play. Then Dani Alves interchanged well with Cesc Fabregas and played it central to Lionel Messi but again Messi was denied. The ball fell to Cesc Fabregas, but his effort was blocked before Maxwell’s volley was parried clear.
Zaragoza were on the ropes and Barcelona were going for the knockout. Lionel Messi tried to run at the defense, before playing it to Fabregas who back-heeled it to Sanchez, but the summer signing had his shot saved by Roberto. Aguirre’s side were surviving, but only just.
Cesc Fabregas played the ball across to Lionel Messi from the right-wing, and despite claims for offside, no flag was raised, so Messi slotted it home from inside the box. The Blaugrana had their second, but in truth it could have been so much more with Cesc even missing a chance after Messi’s goal. Would the second half be any different?
Starting out like the first ended, Cesc Fabregas was the first to have an impact in the second half, played through by Lionel Messi, but his shot was saved well by Roberto. No changes at the half-time break, and Barcelona were looking to retain possession and indeed energy for the Milan match on Wednesday.
Despite the Catalan dominance, Zaragoza were not going to give up. Juan Carlos went on a storming run down the left-hand side and his cutback forced Keita into a fine block. Valdes still didn’t have to make a save, and in truth, that did not change in the final half-hour of the match. Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique were defending well, and not only that, but they were playing great offensively.
Puyol had missed that earlier chance, and he atoned for that in the 54th minute. Seydou Keita headed the ball across and the captain went for an acrobatic volley which Roberto kept out, before swinging a left-foot at the rebound, despite sitting on the turf. Whether he got the touch is debatable, but I will give him the goal and I doubt anyone will deny him his first of the season either. It may sound a little sad, but this goal made my day!
Cue changes for FC Barcelona, and despite his exploits in midweek it was not Lionel Messi on his way off. Instead Andres Iniesta replaced Alexis Sanchez, and Thiago Alcantara came on for Xavi. The game started to die down, and oddly enough, players started to give away handball decisions. Both Pique and Ruben Micael were booked for use of the hand, hopefully that will not come back to haunt us at a later date.
Carles Puyol was in inspired from and his work-rate down the right-wing (!) forced a mistake from the Zaragoza defense, and Lionel Messi’s run kept Aguirre’s men on their toes before his shot was well-blocked. That heralded another change for the Blaugrana and David Villa replaced Cesc Fabregas. Villa scored the equaliser for Spain in midweek, and was looking for a goal.
Andres Iniesta had a couple of chances, dinking the ball just wide after Messi’s pass, and then firing over from the left-wing. Zaragoza were looking tired, made yet another mistake and Cuenca capitalised. Charging down the right-wing he got to the goal-line before sending in the cross, Mateos swung a leg at it, but merely set it up nicely for El Guaje to head home. Barcelona were 4-0 up, and coasted home to the final whistle.
Man of the Match goes to Lionel Messi, but only just as Carles Puyol pushed him all the way. Puyol did score, but Messi was in imperious form, despite his escapades for Argentina. More of the same please Leo!
Onto AC Milan and the San Siro, but until then: ¡Visca el Barca!