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La Liga: Osasuna 1-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

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Leo dug us out of a deep hole, again
Leo dug us out of a deep hole, again

FC Barcelona were fortunate to escape from Pamplona with all three points as even a less than convincing performance was still enough to defeat Osasuna at the Estadio El Sadar. Osasuna took the lead on 17 minutes after a number of errors from the Barcelona backline, but eventually the Blaugrana struck back through Lionel Messi, as the Argentine slid in a much-needed equaliser with just 15 minutes left to play. Paxti Punal then received his marching orders for dissent, and Barcelona capitalised on their man advantage to grab the winner, with Lionel Messi the scorer once again. It was a poor performance from the Catalans, but with three points in the bag, it doesn’t matter one bit.






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With Wednesday’s Clasico in mind, Tito Vilanova made four changes from Thursday’s win, as Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, Cesc Fàbregas and Cristian Tello all came into the starting XI while Javier Mascherano, Adriano, Xavi and Pedro were all dropped to the bench. There was also a place on the bench for new signing Alex Song, while Osasuna made just the one change from their opening day defeat to Deportivo. After such an impressive start at the Camp Nou, would the Blaugrana be able to get their away campaign off to a good start?

Well, it very nearly got off to the worst possible start, as within a minute of the start, Alvaro Cejudo skipped past the challenge of Gerard Piqué and fired a powerful shot at goal, but Victor Valdés, who was the villain on Thursday, turned hero with a decent save to keep Osasuna at bay. Alexis Sanchez registered the first Barcelona shot on goal with a fairly tame effort despite a great pass from Cesc Fàbregas. However, the first chance of the game would fall to Cristian Tello, and it was a brilliant individual effort from the young winger. Cutting inside from the left-hand side, Tello engineered enough room to take a shot on goal and it was a good effort too, escaping Andrés Fernandez’ attempted save and rebounding off the near-post.

On the other hand, when Osasuna got their first clear-cut chance of the game, they made Barcelona pay. It was poor defending as much as anything that created this chance as Roland Lamah made a simple run to escape Sergio Busquets and the Belgian was given space to hang the ball up at the far post. There to meet the cross was Joseba Llorente, brother of Fernando and the man on loan from Real Sociedad did well to finish on the volley from a tight angle.

Cristian Tello came close to providing the Catalans with an instant response, forcing a good save from Andrés Fernandez, before Iniesta had two chances to level the score up. For his first, he simply took far too long to take the shot and his effort was blocked, possibly due to his unusually poor first touch, although he really should have down better with the second opportunity, firing over from close range much to the delight of the home crowd.

Half-an-hour into the match, and it was clear that something wasn’t quite right about Barcelona’s play. Their passing accuracy was down near the 80% mark and they just weren’t getting Lionel Messi involved in play enough to trouble the Osasuna defense. Osasuna on the other hand were causing all sorts of problems with every attack, as Puyol faltered to gift Osasuna a chance to double their lead, although Gerard Piqué covered for his partner with two excellent blocks.

Aside from a trademark dribble and shot from Lionel Messi, Barcelona barely threatened in the remainder of the half, and as a result they went in behind at the break. Barcelona were looking frail defensively and Lionel Messi just couldn’t get into the game. It may have been in a different kit, with a different manager, but this was far too similar to the Barcelona of last season for my liking.

Neither side made a change at the break and Barcelona made no immediate improvement either. In fact, despite trailing Osasuna it took them over 25 minutes to even create a chance of note. In the meantime, Pedro had replaced Cesc Fàbregas, Xavi had taken Iniesta’s place on the field, David Villa was on for Tello and more worryingly, Osasuna had tested Victor Valdés and the Barcelona woodwork on multiple occasions. Well, they only hit the post once, but it was a chance they really should have scored as substitute Nino stole the ball from Busquets, but couldn’t convert his 1-on-1 chance.

Back to that Barcelona chance and Lionel Messi was the creator, threading a pass through to Alexis Sanchez who could only fire at Andrés Fernandez. Osasuna were not so lucky when the next chance came though. There was a hint of fortune in the build-up as the referee played a part, obstructing an Osasuna attack, but Osasuna had plenty of time to rectify that mistake. Messi played the ball to Sanchez, who helped it on to Pedro and it appeared as though the chance was dead. Pedro couldn’t sort out his feet, but a quick turn and burst of acceleration and the chance was back. Playing the ball across goal, the ball found its way to Messi, via Alexis Sanchez and the Argentine slid the ball into the back of the net to tie the score at 1-1. Osasuna were enraged and despite playing a great game up until that point, Paxti Punal received a red card for arguing with the referee just a little too much.

It was about to get a lot worse though, as Barcelona quickly hammered home their newly-found man advantage by pulling ahead. Lionel Messi got the goal (again), but it was all about the build-up. David Villa got the ball rolling, cutting in from the left to find Xavi, who sent the ball right back to the left and Jordi Alba. Alba picked out Lionel Messi and Messi did what he does best, finding the bottom corner from the edge of the box. It had been a tough game to say the very least, and Osasuna didn’t really deserve to be behind, but they were and Barcelona had secured what could turn out to be a pivotal victory even at this early stage of the season.