FC Barcelona were far from their best on Wednesday night, but were still too strong for Cordoba as a brace from Lionel Messi secured a 2-0 victory for the Blaugrana. Messi’s first came in the 11th minute after a selfless pass from David Villa allowed the Argentine to score his 87th goal of the year. Cordoba and Vincenzo Rennella had an equaliser ruled out for offside just minutes later, but Barcelona never looked to be in any real danger and Messi made sure of the win with on 74 minutes with an accurate finish past Mikel Saizar.
Tito Vilanova fielded a strong line-up ahead of Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash with Atletico Madrid, much to the surprise of Culés everywhere. Jose Manuel Pinto started in goal, but ahead of Pinto were 10 internationals as Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Alex Song, Xavi Hernández, Thiago Alcântara, Pedro Rodriguez, David Villa and Lionel Messi all started for the Blaugrana. Surely Barca would run riot with such a strong team?
Cordoba started well, pressing high up the field and looked to take advantage as Barcelona struggled to adapt to the difficult conditions. The hosts also forced Pinto into the first save of the match, and what a save it was as well as the veteran Spaniard recovered from a poor clearance to acrobatically tip Vico’s long-range effort out for a corner kick.
Barcelona were not in the mood for an upset though and after Thiago rattled the post with a beautiful 25-yard shot of his own, the Blaugrana took the lead through Lionel Messi. With the woodwork still rattling from Thiago’s sublime strike, Cordoba struggled to clear their lines and after a nice run back into danger, Pedro found David Villa in acres of space on the left-hand side of the Cordoba area. Unselfishly, El Guaje decided to square the ball for Lionel Messi, who nearly missed in rather comical fashion, but fortunately Messi’s mishit effort rebounded in off the underside of the bar.
Cordoba responded well to falling a goal behind and almost hit back with an immediate reply, but Vincenzo Rennella’s tap-in was ruled out (correctly) for offside. However, Los Califas were not going to be discouraged, despite the fact that they were without a win in their last five matches. Barcelona on the other hand were looking far from their best, and aside from David Villa’s penalty appeal (which was – in my opinion – rightfully turned down by the referee) Barca created nothing of note in the remainder of the first-half.
Similarly, Cordoba started the second half well and were pushing for an equaliser, albeit without ever forcing Pinto into action. Barcelona on the other hand were starting to create more and more chances. First, Xavi lifted the ball over the Cordoba defense to find Pedro’s well-timed run, but the Spaniard couldn’t keep his effort down and the chance was wasted. Pedro was played through again, this time aided by a nice decoy run from Alex Song, but once again, Pedro couldn’t find the back of the net.
Lionel Messi had the next chance to extend the lead after a magnificent marauding run and defense-splitting pass from Gerard Piqué put the Argentine through on goal, but surprisingly Messi opted for power over precision, and couldn’t finish the chance as a result. However, Messi wouldn’t make the same mistake twice and coolly slotted the ball past Mikel Saizar for his second of the night with 74 minutes played after a nice pass from Alexis Sánchez – who had replaced Pedro earlier in the half.
Martin Montoya was brought on for Dani Alves soon after the goal, while Cristian Tello replaced David Villa, which ensured that both Xavi and Lionel Messi completed the full 90 minutes ahead of Sunday’s match with Atletico Madrid. The final ten minutes passed without any real incident, and Barcelona will be content with their two-goal lead headed into the second-leg at the Camp Nou. Next up, Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid visit the Camp Nou in what promises to be the biggest match of the season so far, but until then, Visca el Barca!