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La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-0 Elche CF: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's emphatic 4-0 win over lowly Elche CF on Sunday afternoon, as the Blaugrana reclaimed top spot courtesy of goals from Alexis Sanchez (3) and Pedro

David Ramos

Four goals, a clean sheet and all three points. FC Barcelona kicked off 2014 in style on Sunday afternoon, overpowering lowly Elche CF to emerge 4-0 winners at the Camp Nou, a win that ensures the Blaugrana will enter next weekend’s top of the table clash with Atletico Madrid as league leaders. All throughout the 90 minutes, Barcelona dominated their helpless visitors, with a hat-trick from Alexis Sánchez the undoubted highlight of a routine victory for Gerardo Martino’s side.






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Gerardo Martino named a strong starting eleven for his first competitive match of 2014, although rather surprisingly, there was no room in the attack for Brazilian superstar, Neymar. Instead, Cesc Fàbregas started at false nine with Alexis Sánchez and Pedro in support, while there were recalls for Martin Montoya, Victor Valdés and Xavi Hernández, all of whom missed Barcelona’s last match against Getafe. Would Barça be able to reclaim top spot with a win or would Elche pull off one of the surprises of the season by stealing a share of the points?

The match started rather ominously for the visitors, who were immediately pinned back into their own defensive third, as Barcelona pushed forward in search of an early goal. Alexis Sánchez very nearly provided the crowd with an early opener, but just strayed offside to let the Elche defense off the hook. However, Sánchez made no mistake in the seventh minute, pouncing to fire Barça into that early lead.

Jordi Alba created the goal, first bringing down an excellent cross-field pass with a sumptuous first touch; Alba looked up and delivered a teasing cross towards the back-post where Alexis was on hand to cushion the ball into the roof of Tono’s net.

Elche, to their credit, attempted to hit back through Richmond Boakye who rattled the frame of the returning Victor Valdés’ goal with a powerful effort after Fidel’s excellent dribble caught Marc Bartra out of position for the reverse pass to the Ghanaian. It was a let-off for the Blaugrana who really should have dealt with the threat, but ultimately, the effort only served to incense the Barça frontline.

Within minutes of Boakye’s chance, Barcelona reminded Elche just who was in control of this match by adding a second goal. The chance was created from midfield, as Cesc Fàbregas dropped deep to play a one-two with Xavi, and after the Elche defense failed to press him upon receiving the return pass, Fàbregas threaded a delightful through ball to pick out the run of Pedro. Full of confidence after his excellent hat-trick against Getafe, Pedro rounded the hapless Tono and duly rolled the ball into the back of the net to double his side’s advantage.

It was all too easy for Barcelona. The Elche defense was offering little resistance, their midfield weren’t even beginning to challenge the likes of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, nor could they provide service to Boakye, who was probably the only positive in the early goings.

Barcelona’s third shot of the evening very nearly found the back of the net as well; but the in-form Pedro couldn’t direct his speculative effort into the far corner of the net. Still, there was over an hour left to play at the Camp Nou – plenty of time to grab more goals.

And specifically, plenty of time for Pedro to continue his dazzling form. After lifting an attempted chip onto the roof of the net, Pedro tried to turn creator for Andrés Iniesta, opting to tee up the former UEFA Best Player in Europe on the edge of the area, only to see Iniesta’s effort blocked by the resolute Elche defense.

Moments later, the same Elche defense nearly made a costly mistake, as Alberto Botia passed back to his keeper under heavy pressure to give away an indirect free-kick. Roughly ten yards from goal, Barcelona tried to find a way through the wall of Elche players gathered on the goal-line, but as is almost always the case, the indirect free-kick was eventually cleared from danger after a couple of good blocks.

With the game all but out of reach after the first half, would Gerardo Martino bring Neymar off the bench in the second period? Would Sergi Roberto and/or Cristian Tello get an extended run-out?

Neither manager made a change at the break, although Barcelona returned from their half-time team talk ready to emphasis the gulf in quality between them and their visitors. Alexis Sánchez saw a header cleared off the line by an excellent block before Pedro’s sublime flick sent Cesc Fàbregas through on goal, only for the Catalan to be brought down by Cristian Sapanaru. Xavi stepped up to take the resulting penalty kick, but he sent a dismal effort well wide of the post.

Gerard Piqué was the next Barça player to threaten a third goal as he came within inches of diverting Xavi’s driven low cross into the net. Certainly the elegant central defender felt as if he had been fouled, but the referee was unmoved by his protests and allowed play to continue.

However, Elche could not keep the Blaugrana at bay forever. The pressure was unrelenting and eventually, the defense could cope no longer as Andrés Iniesta played a defense-splitting through ball to Pedro, who selflessly squared the ball to his strike-partner Alexis Sánchez, who tapped the ball into the empty net.

With a healthy three goal advantage, Martino decided it was time to rotate his squad – Xavi left the field to be replaced by Sergi Roberto, with the promise of further changes to follow. But first it was time for more goals – an Alexis Sánchez hat-trick to be precise. Fouled cynically by Alberto Botia, Sánchez first earned, and then converted a free-kick from 25 yards – who knew that the Chilean could be so deadly from a set piece? It was a cracking effort and a suitably impressive way to seal a hat-trick.

The hat-trick hero was afforded a standing ovation for his efforts, as Cristian Tello entered the action for the remaining quarter of an hour. Tello was soon joined in attack by Neymar, who replaced Barça’s other goalscorer, Pedro, for the final ten minutes (plus injury time).

Next up, FC Barcelona turn their attention back to the Copa del Rey, and Wednesday’s home fixture with Getafe CF. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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