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La Liga: FC Barcelona 3-1 Real Zaragoza: Match Review

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Barcelona notched their eleventh league win of the season on Saturday evening, seeing off the threat of mid-table Real Zaragoza to move six points clear at the top of La Liga.

David Ramos

Barcelona notched their eleventh league win of the season to temporarily move six points clear at the top of La Liga as Real Zaragoza were no match for the in-form Blaugrana. Barca took the lead in the 16th minute as Lionel Messi registered his 77th goal of 2012, but Real Zaragoza fought back and found an equaliser courtesy of Paco Montanes in the 24th minute. Alex Song restored Barcelona’s slender advantage just four minutes later with a deflected effort before Messi’s curling effort on the hour mark secured the three points for the Catalans.

Barcelona

Zaragoza

Possession

65%

35%

Total Shots

8

13

Shots on Target

3

2

Pass Accuracy

90%

79%

Fouls

6

15

Offsides

4

2

Yellow Cards

0

1

Red Cards

0

0

The headline news before kick-off surrounded the return of Carles Puyol, who was immediately thrown back into the starting XI at centre-half alongside Gerard Piqué. Dani Alves was relegated to the bench with Martin Montoya taking his place at right-back, while Cesc Fàbregas started from the bench in a league match for the first time this season. That allowed Xavi and Andrés Iniesta to start side-by-side in midfield with Pedro and David Villa supporting Lionel Messi in attack. With Geri and Puyi at the back, and MVP in attack, surely Barcelona were on course for a routine victory?

Barcelona started promisingly, and could have gone one up within a few minutes of kick-off. The early chance fell to Lionel Messi after good play on the left-hand side from David Villa and Jordi Alba who cut the ball back for the Argentine, but somewhat surprisingly Leo couldn’t direct his left-footed effort on target. Andrés Iniesta then had his ninth minute shot blocked after more good work from Alba and even after the opening quarter of an hour, it was clear that Barcelona’s left-flank was going to cause their visitors some problems. As it turns out, it was just a matter of time before the Blaugrana made a breakthrough.

Once again, Jordi Alba was at the centre of the attack, finding Lionel Messi with a perfectly weighted pass and after squandering an earlier chance, Messi wasn’t prepared to let this move go to waste, slotting the ball past Roberto to give Barcelona the lead. While the pass from Alba was exceptional, and Messi’s finish was superb, credit has to go to Xavi as well for his marvellous dribbling to keep possession of the ball in the build-up to the goal. It was a quality goal all-round and Barca were deservedly ahead against their mid-table opponents.

However, their lead did not last long as Zaragoza hit back on 24 minutes through Paco Montanes after poor defending from the Barca backline. Credit to Montanes for his goal, it was a clinical finish but when will Barcelona learn how to defend corners? It would be an exaggeration to claim that every corner against the Blaugrana leads to a goal, but it certainly isn’t far off as Martin Montoya failed to clear the ball following a routine flick-on allowing Montanes the chance to level the scores.

Were Barcelona in trouble? Surely Zaragoza could not follow in Real Madrid’s footsteps and escape from the Camp Nou with a share of the spoils? Well, for four brief minutes Zaragoza were level but Barcelona soon restored their one-goal lead – from a corner no less. Xavi took the corner short to Andrés Iniesta, who found Lionel Messi in space on the edge of the Zaragoza area. Quick to atone for their error, the Zaragoza defense tried to win the ball back from the diminutive Argentine, but he was just too quick, just too skilful to be caught. Skipping past the challenge of two defenders, Messi accelerated to the byline and cut the ball back to Alex Song who put Barcelona back ahead with the help of a deflection. Zaragoza arguably finished the half as the better side, with Victor Fernandez and Franco Zuculini both going close, but in spite of those two half-chances, Zaragoza trailed at the break.

Neither side made a change at the break and as a result the pattern of the match was largely unchanged. Barcelona kept possession even if they weren’t in any rush to find their third goal of the evening while Zaragoza were content to sit back and defend in the hope that they could manufacture one chance – be it from a coutner-attack or a set-piece – to conjure up an equaliser. However, just like the first-half, Barcelona scored after 16 minutes of action and again it was Messi with the goal as the Argentine placed his shot in the far corner of Roberto’s net after a neat cut-back from Martin Montoya. From Iniesta to Messi to Montoya and back to Messi; it was another fantastic team goal and with a two-goal cushion Barcelona were well on their way to their eleventh league win of the season.

Cristian Tello replaced David Villa immediately after the goal while Carles Puyol was the next Barca player to make way, and the home crowd responded by giving El Capitan a standing ovation. It sure is great to have Puyi back in the side and it was even better to see our leader complete 75 minutes without injuring himself. Marc Bartra took his place in the heart of defense and Cesc Fàbregas replaced Pedro, who had a quiet game on the right-wing. Andrés Iniesta was desperately unlucky not to add to Barcelona’s lead with a little over ten minutes left to play, as his curling strike from roughly 25 yards rebounded off the frame of Roberto’s goal. Neither side created anything of note after that point and Barcelona were perfectly happy to conserve energy in the final ten minutes with Tuesday’s trip to Moscow in mind. Another game, another win; Visca el Barca!