The first La Liga match of the 2012-13 campaign was fantastic. The manita against Real Sociedad quelled many fears about how FC Barcelona would bounce back after a disappointing season with many changes last year. To boot, rivals Real Madrid tied Valencia in its first game, sending Barcelona to an early lead atop the table.
Well, let’s just say the second match of the season wasn’t quite as spectacular. In fact, if it weren’t for a certain No. 10, the score line could have ended very similarly or worse than the Castilians’ from last week.
Against CA Osasuna, head coach Tito Vilanova decided to rest a few key players, like midfield maestro Xavi Hernández. The starting lineup consisted of Victor Valdés, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Cristian Tello, Lionel Messi and Alexis Sánchez. Osasuna started Andrés Fernández, Miguel Flaño, Javi Arribas, Damiá, Marc Bertrán, Raoul Loe, Francisco Puñal, Roland Lamah, Álvaro Cejudo, Joseba Llorente and Sisi.
Barcelona enjoyed almost all of the early chances in the match. Alexis almost scored after an Iniesta through ball in the fifth minute but Fernández saved his shot. In the 12th minute, Iniesta took a shot of his own, but powered it over the bar and to the right. The best opportunity fell to Tello, whose strike ricocheted off the left post after another Iniesta assist in the 15th minute.
Unfortunately for the Catalans, the first goal was not meant to be theirs. Just two minutes after Barcelona’s last attempt, Osasuna illuminated the scoreboard. Lamah made a great, long cross to the back post and Llorente rose to karate kick the ball into the top-right corner past Valdés. Tello tried quickly to equalize a minute later, but Fernández made the save.
In the 25th minute, Iniesta again missed a strike, this time well over the crossbar. The referee showed the first yellow card of the match two minutes later when Sisi took down Cesc.
The 33rd minute proved a bit nervy for Barcelona as Osasuna knocked in several chances in a row. Valdés saved the first shot by Lamah in the bottom corner. Defenders blocked Llorente’s two subsequent shots to keep Osasuna’s lead to one.
Damiá earned the next yellow card in the 34th minute for a bad challenge on Messi. La Pulga had one of his best attempts of the game saved a minute later. Busquets fouled Sisi in the same minute and found his way into the referee’s book with a yellow card.
Messi was again involved in the 37th minute after a classic Iniesta through ball. However, Fernández caught the ball from the difficult angle to keep his clean sheet.
Loe took a distance shot in the 44th minute after a corner but watched the ball sail well over the bar. Barcelona tried valiantly to grab a goal before halftime for confidence, but both Messi’s and Iniesta’s shots elicited great saves from Fernández.
Neither side made any changes before the second half, and Barcelona luckily didn’t have to make one in the first minutes of the half after a bad tackle on Alba. Cejudo received a yellow card for his miscue and Alba was able to continue with the match.
Soon after in the 52nd minute, another Osasuna player earned a card. Flaño wasted time during a free kick and the referee wasn’t lenient.
Both Sisi and Messi traded scoring opportunities within five minute of each other. Sisi missed a shot over the crossbar in the 58th minute. A minute later, Fernández saved Messi’s shot from outside of the box. Valdés then returned the favor in the 61st minute by saving Sisi’s distance attempt.
Barcelona made the first substitution of the game in the 63rd minute. A lackluster Cesc made way for Pedro Rodríguez. The same minute, goal-scorer Llorente sent his header wide after a free kick. Two minutes later, his teammate Lamah also missed his shot wide.
Both teams made a substitution starting in the 69th minute. Nino came on for Llorente and Xavi replaced his midfield partner, Iniesta.
The two teams again traded shots on goal in the 72nd minute. Fernández parried Alexis’s distance shot and Valdés did likewise to Lamah’s strike a minute later. In the 75th minute, David Villa switched with Tello.
Maybe Villa’s presence was the confidence booster Messi needed, because he finally scored the breakthrough goal he had been chasing all game a minute later. Alexis made the assist and Messi tapped the ball into the net past the ever-present Fernández for the equalizer.
As if Barcelona’s goal weren’t bad enough, Osasuna also went a man down. The referee showed Puñal a straight red card for protesting, an uncharacteristically harsh decision.
Osasuna made another substitution in the 78th minute to adjust its ten-man lineup. David Timor entered the game for Sisi. The same minute, Piqué earned a yellow card for fouling Loe. Lamah followed suit a minute later for taking down Alves. Osasuna’s last substitution came with ten minutes left to play. Cejudo took Lolo’s place on the bench.
The same minute Osasuna’s luck took an even worse turn when the diminutive Argentinean striker struck again. After an Alba assist, Messi snuck the ball into the bottom corner of the goal to give Barcelona its first lead of the match at 2-1.
Puyol couldn’t keep his name out of the referee’s book as he handled the ball in the 81st minute. Barcelona struggled to hang on to its slender lead with just a few minutes left to play. Although Osasuna had several more attempts blocked or miss the frame of goal, it couldn’t find an equalizer.
It wasn’t pretty, but with a few lucky breaks and one determined No. 10, the three points fell Barcelona’s way. That, is football.
The best news? Madrid lost 2-1 to Getafe. The view from the top of the table is nice.
Image Source: AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos