Zaragoza will have to add another year to the 47 they have failed to register a win in the Camp Nou as they went down 3-1 as Barça recorded league win number 11 of 2012/13.
It appeared Tito Vilanova wanted his defense pairing back in tandem ASAP because Puyol and his now correctly bending elbow started the game somewhat surprisingly. Montoya was given the start on the right, Alba the left, Piqué the middle while Alex Song filled the pivot role for the suspended Busquets with Xavi and Iniesta on his right and left. ‘MVP’ started upfront.
The very early signs indicated a goal was not far off. The pace was quick and the movement direct. Just 120 seconds in Lionel Messi could have made it 1-0 but his curling effort from a Jordi Alba cut back went the wrong side of the post.
The prodding and probing continued but tonight there was a sense of directness unlike other evenings, especially early on in the 1st half. The midfielders and defenders were trying more vertical, early balls forward even if it brought with it sacrificed possession. Instructions from Vilanova perhaps?
Messi did make it 1-0 in the 15th minute with a goal that could be wrongly misconstrued as simple. It was not, Messi made it look so. Alba again cut it across from the left, low and hard and while the defender made an attempt to intercept it, Messi’s genius had calculated the ball had enough pace. Just as the ball zipped past the defender, Messi stepped forward and without breaking the stride of running allowed the ball to cushion ever so gently off his right foot into space and the next touch he lashed it into the bottom left corner. His touch was subtle but masterful.
Messi scoring was no surprise but then sadly neither was conceding. Zuculini whipped a ball into the area that warned FC Barcelona that 1-0 is not home and dry. The resulting corner was sufficiently handled but only for another corner. This time there was no warning, only punishment. A weak clearance from Martin Montoya was picked up on the edge of the box by Montañes who blasted it past everyone to equalize in the 23rd. 1-1.
No need to panic as the lead was restored 5 minutes later. A short corner to Iniesta then a pass into the box. It was Messi who received and with a combo of skill and strength the mercurial forward created space on the byline, cut it back into the danger area where Alex Song found himself free and coolly side footed it home. Debut goals are always important and the team celebrated with a true sense of unity and encouragement.
A bit of action on both ends but nothing noticeable brought the first 45 to an end. The 2nd half was interesting as Zaragoza quite clearly pushed up higher and pressed. And it worked the first 15 minutes as Barça lost some control over the tempo of the match. But while the more ambitious tactic had its benefits, the risk was obvious and proved fatal.
He like many times before began and finished the chances. Yup, that man Leo Messi with goal 2 of tonight, goal 15 of the league, and goal 78 of 2012. Spotting Montoya hauling it down the side, the Argentine fizzed it out right. Thankfully, Montoya did not just swing it into the box and hope, but rather put in a measured cut back to Messi on the edge of the box. You won’t see many more precise finishes. There at first seemed a lack of pace on the shot but the curling effort was millimeter perfect. Off the post and it was 3-1.
Immediately afterwards, Villa, again with an underwhelming game, was predictably replaced by Cristian Tello. Vilanova made the other 2 substitutions in brisk succession <chrome_find class=”find_in_page findysel”>bringing in Bartra and Fàbregas for Puyol and Pedro. Puyol’s reaction to coming off was classic. Never mind recovering ahead of schedule, never mind his lack of match practice and fitness, Puyol was visibly and endearingly annoyed.
Iniesta had a curling effort in the 80th minute thump back off the bar and that was pretty much that. The defense looked far from the fortress they have been in recent years but the return of Puyol and Piqué together visibly provided safety and structure. Song had an encouraging game with improved positioning and ball movement though he was lucky to escape without a booking after some cynical and clumsy physical play. Piqué’s advanced play and passing is a bit rusty but that can only improve with more minutes. Alba showed tonight the genuine threat his speed and overlapping prowess provides. And while the football this season thus far seems to be missing a few brush strokes it bodes well that only 5% of potential points have been lost. 34 points from a possible 36 while not firing on all cylinders is exciting.
Lastly, a mention for Jiménez who has put together a very competent looking Zaragaoza side, one of the better I’ve seen over the last decade.
Image: Claudio Chaves – MD