Uncertainty still ruled over FC Barcelona before its match against bottom of the table Sporting Gijón. Even though the team enjoyed a solid win last weekend in La Liga and form was returning, the nagging fear of the FIFA curse lingered. Many players relished success with their various national teams midweek, but culés wondered if that success would carry over into their club. Although the game was anything but easy, Barcelona captured three points and continued their recovery to full strength.
Head coach Pep Guardiola was a bit short-staffed in terms of players this game. Villa, Fontàs, and Afellay are still injured for the long term. Thiago and Abidal joined them in the stands with minor knocks. In addition, both Messi and Busquets were suspended for this game after accumulating five yellow cards in the last La Liga game. Without these players, Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Xavi, Keita, Iniesta, Pedro, Cesc, and Cuenca began the match for the blaugrana.
The shaken up lineup did prove to throw the team off a bit. While possession was still greatly in Barcelona’s favor, many chances went unconverted. Pedro managed to score in the 9th minute, but had his goal disallowed because he strayed offside prior to shooting the ball into the net.
Both teams had many scoring opportunities that either ended in the hands of the goalkeeper or sailed over the crossbar. All that Barcelona lacked was the power to finish its plays. The next real action was not until the 28th minute when Ayoze was booked with a yellow card for an obvious handball. A minute later, his teammate Canella followed him into the referee’s book.
Eventually the goal did come for Barça. In the 42nd minute, Iniesta was able to break the cycle and change the score line to 1-0. Adriano and Keita played some nice one two before the Malian drove into the box. He cut back to the center to Iniesta who just tapped the ball into the net for the goal.
The first half was not as easy as predicted, but the Catalans led at halftime nonetheless. With that momentum carrying into the second half, it should have made the rest of the game a little less strained.
Well, it did not take long for that idea to go flying out the window. Just one minute into the second half, Piqué was red carded and sent off, leaving Barcelona with ten men. The defender brought down De las Cuevas during a goal scoring break and the referee had no sympathy. In the aftermath, Iniesta saw a yellow card for dissent. Sporting used the break in action to make two substitutions. Suárez and Ayoze came off for David Barral and Carmelo in the 48th minute.
As if the card drama was not bad enough, Sporting scored literally right after Piqué left the pitch. Mendy beat Adriano to cross a ball into the box. David Barral fought his way in front of Valdés and guided the ball into the net to equalize. Barely five minutes into the second half, and Barcelona already saw its lead disappear.
In an attempt to try and regain its composure, the team subbed on two new players in the 59th minute. Alexis and Tello came on to increase the attacking power for Cesc and Pedro, respectively. Frustrations were beginning to show on both sides, as a yellow card storm dominated the next minutes.
The first was to De las Cuevas in the 64th minute for grabbing Iniesta. The next went to Xavi in the 71st minute for protesting. André Castro received a booking two minutes later for pulling at Alexis. Carmelo was likewise punished a minute later for crowding Alves.
The yellow cards took a brief respite in the 75th minute for a substitution. Eguren replaced De las Cuevas for Sporting.
After that, though, the yellow cards continued to make their way out of the referee’s pocket. Keita was the victim in the 76th minute for a hard tackle. He was soon followed by recent sub Eguren for taking down Tello in the 79th minute.
Keita did not let the abundance of cards get to him, as he put Barcelona ahead in the 79th minute. Mascherano passed the ball to Alexis who made a quick and clever back heel to Keita. Keita took his shot from the top corner of the box and sunk the ball into the opposite top corner of the net. After a game that had been very stop-and-start due to the cards, the distance goal was just what Barcelona needed.
However, even with the goal, the yellow cards did not stop. Goal scorer David Barrel saw his yellow in the 80th minute. Just after, Puyol came on for Cuenca, but just after that, Alves was booked in the 82nd minute.
A goal ahead and a man down, Barcelona should have just been concerned with winding the clock down and making it out of this game without any more suspensions. Captain Xavi had other plans though, as he brought the score to 3-1 in the 88th minute. Iniesta made the assist to his midfield partner over the defense. The maestro was one-on-one with the goalkeeper and chipped the ball right over him to watch it bounce into the net.
The last four minutes of added time passed without any more cards or goals, surprisingly, and Barcelona notched another win at Camp Nou. As dramatic as this match became in the second half, Barcelona still finished strong and continued to fight, even after the red card and equalizer. It may not have been a classic Barcelona performance, but the main difference gathered from this game compared to previous ones in the season was the lack of complacency. The team never became comfortable, it never stopped trying, and it never lost the desire to win. That is what won this game. The fact that Barcelona can manage these feelings while 10 points down in the league proves that it is definitely still more than a club.
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