FC Barcelona extended their lead at the top of the table on Wednesday evening with a commanding 7-1 win over bottom-place CA Osasuna at the Camp Nou. Full of confidence after their last-gasp El Clasico victory, Barcelona started the match in an up-tempo fashion and were rewarded for their work ethic with two goals in the opening half-hour, courtesy of Lionel Messi and Andre Gomes.
Osasuna temporarily made a contest of it in the second-half with an early free-kick from Roberto Torres, but Barcelona promptly pulled ahead again and cruised into the distance as Andre Gomes and Lionel Messi both completed their braces, while Paco Alcacer helped himself to a brace of his own either side of penalty from Javier Mascherano, who broke his duck after 319 games for the club.
After a couple of difficult, demanding matches against Juventus and Real Madrid and in the past week, Luis Enrique opted to heavily rotate his squad for the visit of Osasuna on Wednesday evening. Not only did the Blaugrana return to a 3-4-3, but they recalled a number of players who had featured sparsely in recent months. Lucas Digne occupied the left defensive role typically filled by Samuel Umtiti, while Denis Suarez replaced Andres Iniesta on the left-hand side of midfield.
Elsewhere, Andre Gomes started on the right in a role that Sergi Roberto or Rafinha Alcantara usually enjoy and in attack, Arda Turan made his return in place of the suspended Neymar while Paco Alcacer started as centre-forward with Luis Suarez dropping to the bench. Evidently Luis Enrique had one eye on the upcoming Catalan derby with RCD Espanyol, but would the changes disrupt the Blaugrana’s momentum?
After a somewhat slow start, Barcelona began to find their feet and started to plug away at a resolute Osasuna defense. With virtually their entire team behind the ball, Osasuna seemed to be frustrating their star-studded hosts before a momentary lapse of concentration cost them dearly. A loose pass from Fausto in the Osasuna midfield was anticipated in expert fashion by Lionel Messi who got a foot in to intervene and after juggling the ball into the area, the Argentine nonchalantly lifted a finish over the head of the onrushing Salvatore Sirigu.
For those counting at home, it was Messi’s 32nd in La Liga this season, his 48th in all competitions and his 501st for the club.
Despite the mistake, Osasuna stuck to their gameplan of defending in numbers and for a while, it seemed to pay dividends. The chances began to dry up for the hosts and when they did come, they typically came as the result of an Osasuna mistake whereby possession was conceded in a threatening area.
This was a theme repeated in the game’s second goal, albeit to a lesser extent as once again, Lionel Messi was involved in the build-up. After an uncharacteristically poor pass was intercepted, Messi pounced on the defender to reclaim possession and his left-footed strike at goal was deflected inches wide of the post for a corner kick.
A smart routine saw Rakitic play the ball short to Arda Turan from the resulting corner, and Arda tried to cut the ball back from the byline. While that was partially cleared, Sergio Busquets poked the loose ball out to Denis Suarez who found Rakitic in space on the wing. Having just taken the corner, the Croatian midfielder composed himself and made the most of his opportunity with a low cross which was met at pace by Andre Gomes, who hammered home the game’s second goal into the corner of the net.
At the half-hour mark, this game was as good as over. The only question remaining was how many Barcelona would score.
The last time that Osasuna visited the Camp Nou, they left on the wrong end of a 7-0 hammering and Barcelona could have easily scored another before the break. Another clever set-piece routine freed up Paco Alcacer for a header on goal and his looping effort had Sirigu scrambling across his goal for an unconvincing save. In spite of the pressure, Osasuna held firm and entered the break only two goals behind. A comeback was unlikely, but far from impossible.
As the two teams re-emerged for the second-half, the last thing that the Camp Nou crowd were expecting was an Osasuna comeback. Barcelona had been simply too good, too clinical in the first-half and many expected this to continue into the second-half. However, before Barcelona could create their first chance of the second period, Osasuna were awarded a free-kick in a promising position and lined up for their real shot on goal.
Roberto Torres stepped up and deceived Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a fabulous curling effort; at first glance it appeared to be headed over the wall and ter Stegen stepped in that direction expecting an easy save only for the ball to curve into the space he had just vacated. Minutes into the second-half and Culés were reminded that this game wasn’t over just yet.
As expected, the goal prompted a response from the hosts and within moments of the restart they had forced a fine save from Salvatore Sirigu. Of all people it was Javier Mascherano with the chance as he directed a header towards goal from point-blank range. For a moment it seemed as though Mascherano was going to finally claim his first goal as Barcelona player but the Italian keeper clawed the ball off the line and onto the post.
A penalty appeal for Ivan Rakitic was strangely turned down by the referee but Barcelona used it as motivation and before the hour mark was reached, they had reclaimed their two-goal cushion. Gerard Pique was unlucky not to score himself after a typically composed attempt in the Osasuna area but while the Catalan couldn’t find the back of the net, Andre Gomes could as the oft-criticised Portuguese midfielder dispatched the rebound for his third goal of the season.
With the night’s proceedings back on script, Barcelona set about making life miserable for the visitors and it took just minutes for Lionel Messi to rub salt into the wounds. In so many ways this was a trademark Messi goal; picking up the ball in a central position, Messi cut inside a plethora of defenders and when he had enough space, he unleashed an arrow right into the corner of the net. It would be his last action of the night, as Enrique promptly withdrew the Argentine for Carlos Alena.
While Messi was off the field, the goals wouldn’t stop coming. Barely a couple of minutes had passed and Barcelona had scored their fifth. Arda Turan’s clever pass over the top found the run of Paco Alcacer who had been making countless runs behind the Osasuna defense and the former Valencia star clipped his shot over Sirigu to extend the lead to four.
A tough night for Osasuna only got worse; again it was a matter of minutes before Barcelona got another. Denis Suarez jinked inside Fran Merida and the former Barcelona youth teamer left out a leg, tripping him in the process. It was a careless challenge and the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Lionel Messi had left the field, and Andre Gomes was on a hat-trick so the choice for the penalty seemed clear…
319 games into his illustrious Barcelona career, Mascherano stepped up and fired the penalty into the roof of the net in emphatic fashion. For his many years of fine service it was a well-deserved goal, although one had to feel a little sympathy for Osasuna at this stage of the evening.
Still, there was no stopping the Blaugrana. Paco Alcacer rounded Sirigu and stroked the ball into the net for his seventh goal of the season as the clock winded down. Once the allotted time was up, the referee promptly blew for full-time and all attentions turned to the Riazor.
How would Real Madrid respond in their first match post El Clasico?