The reigning Champions League Champions left behind a sunny Catalonia for the bitter chills of Minsk as they continued along their long and winding road which will hopefully end in Munich next May. Guardiola’s Champions League away form has left a lot to be desired in recent seasons, but his offensive line up smacked of a steely resolve and an intention to continue scoring for fun. Busquets and Fabregas were relegated to the bench to make way for a midfield of Keita, Xavi and boy wonder Thiago, who has defied expectation by consistently securing his place in the starting eleven this season ahead of more household names.
The twenty four thousand Belarusian fans who crammed into the stadium roared their approval as the teams took to the pitch on a proud night to remember for their club. However, they also hoped they wouldn’t be on the receiving end of a score line to forget. The opening minutes revealed a game plan from a home side content to defend, they narrowed the pitch and crowded their own penalty area, restricting Barcelona’s attacks to the wings. Indeed the Catalans alleged back four evolved into a back two with Puyol and Mascherano the only players keeping Valdes company in their own half. Barcelona enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but couldn’t break down the yellow brick wall of BATE until the nineteenth minute, when a stroke of good fortune nudged the visitors ahead. A Dani Alves cross was destined for the onrushing Messi, who was beaten to the ball by Volodko who could only touch it into his own net. Two minutes later, Villa picked up the ball on the left side of the area and chipped a delightful cross to Pedro, who beat the offside trap to head past Gutor from close range for two nil.
Neither the rain nor the score line could dampen the home fans’ spirits as they continued to lift their team. On the half hour mark BATE emigrated from their own half and almost grabbed a goal back. Volodko was played through on goal, with only Valdes to beat, however, a heroic last ditch challenge from Puyol denied him as he paused to pick his spot. Indeed BATE were putting up a valiant challenge and really didn’t deserve to find themselves three down after Gutor spilled a Pedro cross and Messi headed home the bouncing ball. Seconds later Villa really should have made it four as he was played clean through by a defence splitting ball by Messi. Instead of shooting, he cut back and played the ball back to the onrushing Argentine who was under way too much pressure to finish the chance.
After the half time break, Messi embarked on a series of mesmerizing mazy runs before becoming Barcelona’s second all time goal scorer ten minutes after the restart. He freed Alves on the right hand side of the area. Alves stalled before returning the ball to the Balon d’Or winner, who rifled a left foot bullet to the roof of the net. Fabregas replaced Xavi just shy of the hour mark and Adriano came on for Abidal soon after. With the result secured, Pedro gave way for Maxwell for the final twenty. The visitors remained in total command of the game with chances falling to Messi and Villa, however, they failed to convert in the increasingly hostile weather. Alves was awarded a yellow card for a dubious handball and the resulting free kick was ballooned over the bar. Marko Simic was booked in the 80th minute as Lionel Messi bore down on goal, and his free kick was wide of the target as he continued to chase his hat trick. However, it was Villa who was to have the last impact on the game as he tirelessly chased down the BATE defence, secured possession on the left wing, closed down on goal and slotted a low right footed shot to make it a five nil drubbing.
Barça kept their first clean sheet away from home this season tonight and also welcomed the return of the King Carles Puyol who completed his first full game of the season, not to mention the fact that nobody noticed the absence of Pique and Iniesta due to the quality of the performances from Thiago and Mascherano. Guardiola will surely sleep soundly on the plane home.
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