The game began with a moment of silence, well in our case with a bit of classical music background, for Jordi Vila, a former blaugrana from 1950-54 who passed away Thursday at the age of 81.
The first thing we noticed with the team was that it was as expected, pretty much the best 11 with a few changes. Pique got some rest, which saw Abidal come into the middle and Maxwell take the left side. Alves also was not in the squad at all due to injury, so Adriano got the start at rightback.
We started the game with purpose. The players were passing quick and running with intention and it took just 90 seconds to break through with a really stunning first goal. Iniesta got the ball outside the box, slipped it to the left perfectly for Messi, who cut in taking a defender on, then played a short pass to Villa who showed again his great passing ability with a 1 touch return to Messi, who then showed incredible composure by just dinking the ball past Toño leaving Pedro with a open net, which he scored by just chesting it in. It really was a very Barça goal. There was some indication the Racing players thought it was offside but personally I think it would have been a very very harsh decision.
But, I must say Racing surprised me with their reaction to the early set back. Many teams just seem to give up there and then. But just a few minutes after the goal, Busqeuts was a bit clumsy when he ran into Adrian giving them a freekick in a decent spot. The freekick from Colsa however was harmlessly put over the bar.
Racing however continued to press us hard and chase our players down and had another decent piece of play, which Abidal broke up nicely, which was to be the start of his great 1st half.
Directly from that Racing attack, Villa almost played Pedro in, but he was called offside.
That was all in a very entertaining first 10 minutes. In the 10th minute Villa missed a pretty decent chance. Xavi gave a pass to Messi, who turned and ran towards the goal, then slipped Villa in on the left. I think Villa got stuck in-between two minds a bit, whether to cross the ball to Iniesta who was in a good spot to score or shot himself. In the end, he just sort of dragged it wide. I think he should have taken a bit of time and taken it on his right foot, as that was the better angle.
Just a minute after that, we scored again, but it was disallowed. Pedro showed what we are all about by pressuring the defender, nicking the ball of him, then sliding it to Messi who finished with ease. But, he was just offside.
Barça did not let that disallowed goal faze them, and we looked very determined to get a second soon. We were passing very crisply, showed great movement, and were running relentlessly.
Abidal again broke up a Racing attack in the 14th minute with some very neat defending.
In the 16th minute, Racing had their first real chance. Busquets again was at fault when he did a poor header backwards after a clearance from the Racing defenders. That caught our defense off guard, and Rosenberg did nicely to cut into the box and try to curve the ball with his right foot into the far corner of the net. Victor Valdes made a decent save to stop it and Abidal again cleared the danger.
Once again though, we reacted to their threat by nearly scoring immediately. Messi, who was having a stormer thus far, dribbled at the defense before putting Pedro through on the right. His shot was straight at Toño, however I think he heard the offside whistle and that threw him off. This was a close call though, as Pedro was really just off.
In the next 5 minutes, Toño kept his team in the game. In the 26th minute, Pedro did some lovely work on the right hand side, slipping by 2 defenders before sending the ball back into the middle for Messi. Messi quickly gave it forward to Iniesta, who again slipped it left for Villa. However our number 7 had a heavy touch, allowing Henrique to clear the ball out for a corner. We played the corner short, but eventually, Messi from the left hand side, played it in for Villa who did another superb one touch pass to Iniesta this time, who touched it left for Pedro. Pedro put in a accurate loss cross, which Xavi came sliding in to touch it into the goal, but Toño stopped it with his legs. It then took a few ricochets but eventually feel nicely for Puyol who must have thought he would score, but Toño did a great diving save to deny our captain.
And just 5 minute later, Toño was at it again. Messi was causing the Racing defenders havoc. He came running at them before playing one of his characteristic on-the-run through balls which Adriano came bursting onto. Toño reacted very sharply, came out quickly, and stopped Adriano’s shot.
But he could do little about our next goal. In the 32nd minute, Villa did some trickery in the box that induced Henrique to put in a sloppy tackle and take Villa down. Messi stepped up hoping to redeem himself after his missed penalty against Betis, and he did just that. The keeper went the wrong way and Messi just slid it into the right corner. He then showed off his under shirt that wished his mother a happy birthday.
Yet, Racing again didn’t let their heads drop. Just a few minutes later, Abidal again had to be on his toes and broke up a decent through pass. This time, he got huge applause from the crowed and even chants of “ABI, ABI”. I have never heard his name chanted like that before, but he damn well deserves it. Abidal has been excellent for us not just this year, but the previous 2 as well. Those who doubted his ability or called him a weak link, even at center back, must be feeling a bit silly now
In the 37th minute, we nearly scored again when Busquets climbed well to get a header on target off a corner. It was just directly at Toño.
Busquets however had his 3rd disastrous moment of the game, which has led to one of his worse performances this year. He lost the ball around 30 meters from our box and eventually, Rosenberg picked it up on the left side before playing a decent chip over to Adrian on the far post. He was however called offside and Busquets mistake thankfully led to nothing again.
In the 41th minute, Messi again showed his interest in freekicks. He pulled a decent save out of Toño with a well-struck curling shot into the left side of the goal. The ball was probably not going to go in, but still, Messi seems to be practicing freekicks.
In the 44th minute Abidal showed his ability going forward by playing a perfectly weighted through ball to Villa. Villa was behind the defense, he spotted Toño coming off his line and tried to go around the left side of him but could not get his shot back on target.
Directly from that play, Busquets made another error that this time very nearly cost us. He lost the ball too close to our goal, Maxwell tried to clean up, but, the ball eventually found its way to Kennedy on the right side, who played a great early cross which went over Puyol’s head and only a focused save from Valdes stopped Adrian getting on the scoresheet with a header.
From the resulting corner, Adriano had to clear a ball off the line. So these were a few hairy minutes for us. And just before the final whistle, Rosenberg did some nice work on the right side before laying the ball back to Kennedy who could not keep his shot on target.
That was the end of the first half that was end-to-end and really enjoyable stuff. We were up 2-0, but Racing had put up a good fight at the end and may have sneaked in a goal.
Pique came in for Puyol at the start of the second half. I didn’t hear that Puyol was injured, so I am assuming it was just to give the captain some rest.
Racing started the first few minutes of the 2nd half sharper and hungrier. Just a minute in they created a decent chance when Adrian crossed it in from the left, Rosenberg knocked it on with his head, but Kennedy was just a few paces too slow to knock it into the goal. In the 48th minute, Adrian created some space for himself outside the box before having a powerful shot on goal that just whistled over the bar.
But, the game as a competition essentially ended when Iniesta scored our third of the night in the 56th minute. Messi once again orchestrated the start of the move by passing the ball out wide to Villa. He cut in, squared it into the box, Pedro then did a very clever back flick, laying the ball perfectly for Iniesta, who struck at it with his left foot and the ball went flying into the bottom right corner, with some assistance from a deflection along the way. That was Iniesta’s 7th goal of the season, which is his personal record in a single season.
After that, we were never really threatened much and tried to push for more goals. Villa took a more central role and worked very hard to get into good spaces and tried his best to get onto any pass or cross aimed around the box.
In the 66th minute, just a bit after some dazzling footwork on the left side from Iniesta, we almost scored another stunning goal. Adriano cut in, received a pass from Xavi, hit it towards Messi who dummied over it, Villa played an outrageously good back flick through the defense, but it was just too long for the onrushing Messi.
Keita came in for Xavi in the 68th minute. Personally, I was slightly disappointed not to see Afellay come in, as I’m desperate for him to get more minutes. But, I must say, this game called more for Keita. Despite being down 3-0, Racing were relentless in their pressing and effort. Keita would clear up, make some tackles, and calm the games pace down.
In the 70th minute, Busquets, who was having a far better 2nd half, played a ball through the defense for Pedro. It looked too long, but Pedro gave all he had to get to that ball, stopped it just before the line, and then played a decent low cross into the box. Pedro received his name sounding around the Camp Nou for his effort, and he absolutely deserved it. I cannot think of a Barça story quite like his. He has truly blossomed in front of our eyes. With the likes of Xavi, Messi, Iniesta, even Busquets their quality was immediately obvious. But Pedro, you just weren’t sure at first. He has come leaps and bounds since his first season and now 100% justifies his place and importance in this Barça team.
Just a minute later, Iniesta put Villa through, but Toño again did enough to stop his left footed shot on target.
The 76th minute almost resulted in another Messi wonder-goal. Messi was given the ball right in between the half way line and 18 yard box. He then used his brilliant acceleration to burst forward leaving 3 for dead. He then took on another defender, and another, and another, before unleashing a solid right footed shot that Toño saved. It would have been a real stunner had it finished off with a goal.
The remainder of the game did not have many more big moments. We tried to score but also didn’t mind passing it around. Bojan got a few minutes when he replaced Pedro. The 89th minute almost saw a 4th goal. After we must have put together a good 30 passes, Messi played an outrageously good through ball to Iniesta, who got a lucky deflection off the defender and then nearly toe poked it around Toño.
So 3-0 it finished, and we recorded our 14th straight La Liga victory, something we have only done once before in 2005/6. Racing leave the Camp Nou empty handed for the 28th year running. This was a very strong Barça performance, and great reaction to our loss midweek. Despite the scoreline, Racing actually gave us a game tonight and if I was their manager I would take a lot of positives out of the performance. Yet despite their 6-2-1-1 formation at times, their tireless running, and decent positional play, we cut them open on many occasions. This reallyt bodes well for us going forward. Also, our workrate tonight was top notch. Even in the last 10 minutes, we were harassing the Racing players without mercy and our forwards and midfielders were stealing the ball right off their toes. Messi was superb tonight. He was all over the pitch and showed genius passing time and time again. Another 3 points and another very enjoyable performance.
Barça : Victor Valdes 7, Adriano 6.5, Puyol 7 (Pique – 7), Abidal 8.5, Maxwell 7, Xavi 7.5 (Keita 6), Busquets 6, Iniesta 8, Pedro 8 (Bojan 6), Messi, 9, Villa 7.5.
Note – My scoring will probably be slightly higher than Nic would have done; who I always thought has been strict with ratings. I’m a child of Championship Manager, and for those who are familiar with it, players start games off as a 6.