Barça finish the first half of the season four points clear of Real Madrid, our closest rivals. Madrid could only scrape a 1-1 draw at bottom placed Almeria, giving us the chance to increase our lead which we managed after a comfortable 4-1 win over Malaga. Leo Messi celebrated his Ballon d’Or award with a hat-trick against Betis on Wednesday but Messi couldn’t add to his goal tally tonight leaving the scoring honours to Iniesta, Villa (2) and Pedro. This team continues to make history, this breaks the club record for an unbeaten run (28 games now) and 52 points is a record for the first 19 games of the season. The fact that we have scored 61 goals with only 11 conceded is simply anecdotal, but if we keep up this rhythm to the end of the season there are going to be some incredible figures going into the record books.
Guardiola showed Malaga respect by putting out our best eleven and for the first few minutes Malaga showed every sign of being a well organised outfit. Pellegrini had them playing a pretty rigid 4-4-2 with a defence that tried to push out towards the halfway line. It looked like we might struggle to open the defrence but our passing was looking spot-on, and sure enough,we soon began to find gaps. Abidal gave the first warning, shooting into the side-netting, then in the 8th minute Iniesta and Messi worked the ball out to Alves on the right, instead of crossing high into the box Alves pulled the ball back across the edge of the area where Iniesta arrived with a perfectly timed sidefoot shot that flew past Malaga’s keeper Sergio Asenjo and in off the far post.
Pedro got into the action receiving Messi’s throughball but Asenjo beat Pedro’s shot away, and then Xavi was close to a golazo with a curler from outside the area that hit the crossbar. We were really finding our rhythm now with some excellent combinations all around the pitch, and we were also working very hard as usual to win back the ball quickly. In the 18th minute Busquets won the ball back 30 yards from the Malaga goal, the rest was simple, one touch from Xavi, a quick killer pass from Messi, and Villa fired low through Asenjo’s legs to make it 2-0.
It was all pretty straightforward after this though we did suffer an injury to Alves in the 24th minute who will be out for 10/15 days, so Adriano had to come on at right back. However, we continued to dominate completely and we probably played the best football of the night in the 15 minutes before half time. Messi and Iniesta invented some fantasy football though Messi could only nudge the ball onto the top of the net, then the two combined again for the third goal. Messi sent a crisp pass into Iniesta whose shot was blocked by Asenjo but Pedro showed again how quick he is for rebounds by stabbing the loose ball home. We then finished the half with three more decent chances, first Pedro sent in Villa who shot across goal, just out of Messi’s reach. This was followed by a tremendous move which ended with Villa and Xavi working the ball on to Messi whose shot was saved by Asenjo, and finally it was Messi again burstiung in on the right only to be denied again by the young keeper.
Unfortunately the second half was quite disappointing as the intensity went out of the game. The chances stopped coming and eventually Malage realised they might even give us some problems at the back. Valdés had a first shot to deal with after 65 minutes and then a couple of minutes later Baptista, under pressure from Busquets, won a dubious looking free kick 25 yards out. Duda showed his class by curling a sweet left-footer out of Valdés’s reach. At least the goal woke us up a bit and our game lifted for a while, in the 74th minute Xavi sent another great pass through to Villa who skipped round Asenjo’s lunge before tucking the ball in the empty net. We got another brief glimse of Afellay at the end but he had time to give one decent looking pass through to Bojan, while Bojan had a good chance to get on the scoresheet near the end but Asenjo made another good stop.
There is so much positive about the team at the moment as we are working like a machine. The understanding is excellent and the work-rate from everyone is also very good which means we win the ball back very quickly. The most positive thing for me to take from tonight is the fact that our goals are coming from many different sources. Besides Messi’s 18, Villa has 14, Pedro 10 and Iniesta is on 6 goals in La Liga this season. It seems now incredible to think of some of the criticism that Villa has received. Yes, he gets caught offside sometimes, but it is like complaining when one of Messi’s dribbles doesn’t come off, it is going to happen. I think most people would have settled for 20 league goals from Villa in his first season, especially given that he usually plays wide on the left. Twenty-five goals would have been judged as a very good return, however, he is on course to finish on 28 at the moment and considering he had a slow start it is not unreasonable to think he could even reach 30.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 7 (Adriano m27, 7), Piqué 7, Puyol 7, Abidal 7; Xavi 8, Busquets 7, Iniesta 8.5 (Afellay m82, 6.5); Pedro 8 (Bojan m82, 6), Messi 7.5, Villa 8.
Goals: m8 Iniesta 1-0, m18 Villa 2-0, m36 Pedro 3-0, m68 Duda 3-1, m74 Villa 4-1.
Yellow cards: m27 Demichelis, m76 Abidal.