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La Liga: FC Barcelona 5-0 RCD Mallorca: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's 5-0 La Liga win over Real Mallorca, as a hat-trick from Cesc Fabregas and brace from Alexis Sanchez secured the three points at the Camp Nou

David Ramos

Eric Abidal made his triumphant return from a liver transplant tonight, playing twenty minutes on his return to football after over a year on the sidelines. The Frenchman received a standing ovation as he replaced Gerard Piqué after 70 minutes, by which point Barcelona had already secured the three points, courtesy of a hat-trick from Cesc Fàbregas and a brace from Alexis Sánchez. The win maintains Barcelona’s 13 point lead over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, but who really cares? Eric Abidal is back!!!






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Buoyed by the return of Tito Vilanova who was on the sideline to take charge of his first La Liga match since January, Barcelona were looking for a win to maintain their thirteen point lead at the top of La Liga after Real Madrid temporarily cut the gap with an emphatic win over Levante in one of Saturday’s "early" kick-offs. The Blaugrana may have made seven changes to the XI that started Tuesday’s match against Paris Saint-Germain but they were still heavy favourites to pick up the victory – surely the likes of Cesc Fàbregas, Thiago Alcântara and Cristian Tello would be able to see off the threat of troubled Mallorca?

The visitors started the match brightly and could have taken an early lead through Tomer Hemed, as the striker looked to capitalise on a mistake from Alex Song. The Israeli striker has been one of the only positives in an under-whelming season for the Islanders, leading the squad with eight goals in his 29 La Liga appearances, but he couldn’t keep his effort down and Pinto was able to watch the ball glide harmlessly over the frame of his goal. Barcelona responded by creating a chance of their own as Cristian Tello introduced himself to Alan Hutton and the rest of the Mallorca with an explosive turn of pace to get on the end of a nice pass from Andrés Iniesta. Even if, rather uncharacteristically, the Spaniard couldn’t apply the finish, it was a sign of things to come; Mallorca were allowing Barça far too much space to work their magic.

Granted, it took a while for Barcelona to really get into their groove; for the next fifteen minutes we saw just a couple of half-chances – a free-kick from Dani Alves and a long-range shot from Cesc Fàbregas , neither of which really tested Dudu Aouate in the Mallorca goal. However, when Barça found their rhythm with 20 minutes on the clock; well, the game was as good as over.

Alexis Sánchez was the architect; splitting the Mallorca defense with an excellent through-ball to tee up Cesc Fàbregas and yes, the Catalan midfielder has failed to impress in recent weeks (months?), but he remains one of Barcelona’s most potent attacking threats – and he gave us a timely reminder here, slotting the ball past Aouate and into the corner of the net to hand Barça a deserved lead. Mallorca may have entered the match bottom of La Liga, but it was going to take more than one goal to win this match – which is probably why Barcelona pressed ahead in search of a second.

Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long.

Only a couple of minutes in fact, as Alexis Sánchez doubled the lead on 22 minutes, tucking away the rebound after Cesc Fàbregas’ shot was parried. It might not have been the prettiest of goals, nor was it the most difficult goal that Sánchez will ever score, but it was a crucial goal – both in the context of this game and possibly Barcelona’s season. After missing so many clear-cut chances this season, Alexis has understandably been short of confidence in front of goal: one miss leaves a doubt in his mind, which leads to another miss, and so on; the relief on his face was obvious – he’d finally broken the cycle.

Iniesta came close to adding a third with 27 minutes on the clock, dazzling the Camp Nou crowd with a sensational run which culminated in his first shot on goal. Opening up his body, Iniesta was undeterred by the tight angle and could have pulled off the spectacular if it wasn’t for Aouate who sprung down to make the save. Barcelona were rampant; another goal was coming.

And who else would get the goal but Cesc Fàbregas? Seemingly back in-form and back on track, Cesc played another one-two with Alexis Sánchez – although that doesn’t really do the Chilean justice, as he was the one who really made the chance by delaying the return pass. Through on goal for the second-time this evening, Fàbregas was never going to make a mistake, slotting the ball past Aouate to make it 3-0.

Cesc returned the favour less than a minute later, lifting the ball over the Mallorca defense to find the run of Alexis who again applied the finish, coolly dispatching the chance past the helpless Aouate to add to Mallorca’s misery. It wasn’t even half-time and the Blaugrana were already four goals ahead; just when would the scoring end?

Gregorio Manzano made two changes at the break, replacing both Tomer Hemed and Emilio Nsue, as Javier Arizmendi and Marti were given 45 minutes at the Camp Nou – not that it made much difference. Barcelona picked up exactly where they left off, carving the Mallorca defense open almost at will and most importantly, making the most of their chances. Andrés Iniesta got the assist, picking out Cesc Fàbregas in the Mallorca area and again, Fàbregas wasn’t about to make a mistake with the finish, this time placing the ball past Aouate at the near-post to complete his first-ever hat-trick for the club. And we all thought Messi was irreplaceable?

The Manita was complete; the game was well and truly over, so Tito Vilanova was able to turn his attentions to Wednesday. Jonathan dos Santos made a rare appearance off the bench, allowing Andrés Iniesta to sit out the remaining 40 minutes, and Gerard Deulofeu saw some game-time as well, taking Fàbregas’ place in attack on 65 minutes. Even without Messi, Xavi, Puyol and Valdés, Barcelona were still running riot, still out-classing the opposition. What could have been a tight encounter was turning into an exhibition; a celebration of tiki-taka at its finest. Sure, Mallorca are bottom of the league, but this was still a glorious performance from a side at the peak of their powers.

And then, as if the night couldn’t get any better, there was a signal from the bench; one last change to be made: Eric Abidal was ready to make his comeback.

Abidal slotted into defense rather seamlessly; it was almost like he’d never been away. Within minutes he had already made a crucial block, deflecting Alfaro’s goal-bound effort out for a corner; and overall he was confident in possession too, completing 19 of his 22 attempted passes. Not that his performance really matters, I mean the guy recovered from a liver transplant to continue his sporting career at the highest level; a true inspiration.

And what a fitting way to end the match. Barcelona had dominated from start-to-finish with Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sánchez putting in confidence-boosting performances in attack, but ultimately none of that really mattered. Tonight, the headlines belong to Eric Abidal.

Next up, Barcelona host Paris Sant-Germain, but until then, Visca el Barça!

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