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La Liga: Real Zaragoza 0-3 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's comfortable 3-0 win over Real Zaragoza, as goals from Cristian Tello (2) and Thiago Alcantara secured a valuable three points for the Blaugrana

David Ramos

FC Barcelona took another giant step towards regaining the La Liga title on Sunday evening, defeating relegation-threatened Real Zaragoza 3-0 at La Romareda. Provided Real Madrid continue to win their remaining La Liga matches, Barcelona require just nine points from their remaining seven fixtures – meaning the title could be secure by the first week of May. Thiago opened the scoring tonight, calmly finishing a superb Barcelona counter-attack, and Cristian Tello secured the points with a goal either side of half-time. Three points, three goals and a clean sheet; not a bad day at the office.






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Tito Vilanova made six changes to the team that eliminated Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night as Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Alex Song, Thiago Alcântara, Cristian Tello and Alexis Sánchez were granted starts ahead of Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Andrés Iniesta, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez respectively. Lionel Messi continued to miss out through injury, while Eric Abidal was restored the bench. Could the Frenchman make his second appearance in as many weeks? Would Barcelona move closer to the La Liga title?

Barcelona started the match fairly slowly; it wasn’t the worst start of the season, but it was painfully evident that Barça were fielding a "second-string" XI, with a few notable exceptions. Passes were being over-hit, there was a little less movement off the ball, and most notably of all, Barcelona were playing at a far slower tempo than we are accustomed to. Naturally, this didn’t apply to all the players – Cristian Tello was wreaking havoc on the Zaragoza defense, displaying excellent control and frightening acceleration to cut inside the challenge of Cristian Sapunaru. Even if he was a little off-target with the finish, it was impressive play from the young winger. However, that was the exception in an otherwise tepid start to the match.

Granted, Zaragoza are in 18th place for a reason, but I expected them to be raring to go – especially against such a "weakened" Barcelona XI. Instead, they appeared content to play for the point, defending deep and in plentiful numbers. Even as the match rumbled on, Zaragoza weren’t ready to take the necessary risks to impose themselves on this game. Paco Montañes had a shot blocked on 19 minutes, which was quickly followed up by an effort from Jose Movilla – which was also blocked, this time by Martin Montoya, leading to the game’s first corner kick. Would Zaragoza commit players forward in an attempt to take advantage of this set-piece opportunity? Even against a team with just one natural centre-half on the field, Zaragoza took a short corner, and ultimately paid a heavy price.

Cristian Sapunaru’s cross was easily cleared, and Barcelona pounced on a rare chance to stretch their legs on the counter-attack. Thiago carried the ball forward, and found Alexis Sánchez in space on the right-flank. The Chilean could have tried his luck, attempted to dribble past the Zaragoza defense – after last weekend’s brace against Mallorca, Sánchez must have been high on confidence, but he also knew that the chance wasn’t there. His decision-making, which we have heavily criticised over the course of the season, was perfect, he supplied Thiago with a return pass and the midfielder buried the chance. It was Alexis’ eleventh assist of the season and surprisingly enough, it was only Thiago’s third goal of the campaign.

Now a goal behind to the league leaders, Zaragoza were facing an uphill battle – and Manolo Jimenez was hesitant to change his side’s tactics. Following Granda’s 5-0 defeat at the hands of Atletico Madrid in one of Sunday’s early kick-offs, Zaragoza remained one point away from safety, with a superior goal difference. As much as 17th place was within sight, Zaragoza were also weary of conceding their one "advantage" over their nearest rivals. So, they could have pressed forward in search of an equaliser, but in doing so they would leave themselves open to more counter-attacks and possibly more goals. I can understand why Jimenez didn’t change anything, but sitting back didn’t really help either; Barcelona were not to be stopped.

Thiago Alcântara turned provider this time round, threading a nice pass through to Cristian Tello, who had created enough space for a shot with an intelligent run from the left-hand side of attack. Opening up his body for an attempt at goal, Tello tricked Roberto into expecting a shot to the far post, instead directing his effort to the opposite side of the goal. Roberto couldn’t react in time and with 39 minutes on the clock, Barcelona were already two goals ahead.

Zaragoza responded by making a couple of changes at half-time; this summer’s big money signing, Apoño was readied and brought on in place of Jose Mari while Victor Rodriguez was replaced by Orti, who has made just four substitute appearances in La Liga this season. If they hadn’t already, it appeared as though Zaragoza were on the cusp of giving up. After all, what were the chances of them recovering from a two goal deficit to claim a share of the points? In fact, what were the chances of them keeping Barça scoreless in the second half?

Within mere minutes of the restart, Alexis Sánchez had rattled the crossbar with a delightful chip, and Cristian Tello had claimed his second goal of the evening – again assisted by Thiago – with a trademark curling effort into the far corner of the net. Zaragoza transitioned into damage limitation mode; Helder Postiga was rested for the final half-an-hour, with former Barça B striker Ruben Rochina taking his place in attack.

Even with a three goal lead, Tito took his time before making Barcelona’s first substitution on 78 minutes, replacing Adriano with Eric Abidal, who somewhat surprisingly was given ten minutes less time on the field this week, after completing 20 minutes on his triumphant comeback last weekend. Abidal was soon joined by Sergi Roberto, who made his first La Liga appearance of the season, allowing Xavi a little under ten minutes of rest, while David Villa was given six minutes to stretch his legs, denying Tello a chance at his first-ever hat-trick. The match may have been drawing to a close, but there was still enough time for Sergi Roberto make his case for a place in the senior squad; setting up Alexis Sánchez with a superb through ball. The Chilean was denied by Roberto, who sprung away to make his third save of the night, but it was a positive sign from both players.

Next up, Barcelona host Levante at the Camp Nou, just three nights before the first-leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final with Bayern Munich. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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