Barça continued this splendid season with another 3 points after knocking 3 past Hércules. But along with the points also came another record. This was our 15th league win in a row, which equals the record of 15 held by the 1960/61 Real Madrid team, which included big time legend Di Stefano. So, matching a 50 year old record, and on top of that, being close to pinching a record away from our great rival is a proud achievement.
The team we fielded was exactly as expected, and already by the 3rd minute we had a decent chance on goal. Alves chipped the ball into the box, Messi rose high to chest it down for Xavi, who I think was not fully expecting the opportunity and didn’t really connect will with the ball on the volley.
I musy say, Hércules looked pretty good early on. When they got the ball, they didn’t just blast it forward but tried to keep it and play their way into attack. I was most impressed with their player Tote, who showed some genuine flair and great technique. Valdez was also proving he is a good football player.
Messi had his first chance in the 8th minute after some lovely 1-2 work with Villa. Messi cut in from the left, an area of the pitch we were having some joy, passed it to Villa who again showed his passing ability with a lovely weighted 1 touch pass behind the defense. Messi ran onto it but didn’t have support in the box so he had to go for goal with a tiny angle and Calatayud stopped it at the near post with his feet.
In the 10th minute Messi nearly scored again. We had some good fortune when an attempted clearance by the Hércules defense hit their own player in the back, and the ball fell right at Pedro’s feet. He gave it to Messi, who cut into the box but dragged his shot wide. Messi was not having a poor game by any stretch of the imagination, but things were just slightly off for him. His dribbling always broke down at the last moment, his touch was ever so minutely heavy, and his shot looked just that tiny bit off.
We were really in control at this point in the game, and in the 15th minute a great defensive block stopped Messi again after Alves danced his way into the box and some play between Villa and Pedro finally landed at the Argentine’s feet.
But, Hércules grew into the game and played some really nice football between the 15th-20th minute. And in the 20th minute, the best chance of the game fell to David Trezeguet. Tote played a great ball into the box, Nelson Valdez perfectly flicked the ball back with his head for Trezeguet, but the Frenchman did not look totally convinced he would get to the ball first and that was evidenced in a strange attempt to score almost with his studs. That was a bit of a let off, if Trezeguet had confidence in his chance we could have been 1 behind.
After that until our first goal, we were in control, but not making clear-cut chances. The Hércules defense was playing very well, which was extra impressive as their preferred center back pairing were both out. Ex Barça product “Rodri” and Sarr really caught my eye as competent defenders. Pedro had a few shots at goal in this period; one was saved well by Calatayud while the other was blocked by another great last-ditch tackle. In the 29th minute, Alves got himself into lots of free space on the right, I think he then went for a shot, which was poor, but Messi nearly ran onto it to touch it home.
However, our pressure finally paid dividends in the 42nd minute when Pedro scored his 12th goal in 12 matches.
We again got some space on the left side, Messi burst forward but a Hércules player put in a solid tackle to stop his run, the ball then fell to Iniesta, who also saw a well timed tackle take the ball off him, but the ball fell to Xavi, who spotted Pedro in acres of space on the right. Pedro took one touch to set up his shot, and then placed it perfectly and with pace in the bottom right corner. Calatayud had actually closed down the angle well, and two defenders were rushing at Pedro, so it was really a great composed finish from our excellent number 17.
We came out in the 2nd half wanting to get that comfort second goal quickly. In the 47th minute Villa had a decent effort on goal that just went wide, then in the 49th Xavi took a good shot from outside the box. Hércules though were feeling like they could get back into it too and in the 53rd minute Tote started off a nice move that ended with a tame shot from Valdez, but a shot on target nonetheless.
In the 65th minute, Pedro thought he got his second, but it was incorrectly called offside. Villa was running at the goal, should have passed to Pedro on the right, but the defender nicked the ball of his toe, which went straight to Pedro who calmly left footed it past Calatayud. I think the goal should have counted as it was the Hércules defender, not Villa who touched the ball to Pedro.
The 67th minute saw Messi once again have a great chance that was just off. Busquets played a nice ball into the middle; Messi turned on it and then dragged his shot past Calatayud but just past the right post also. Just a minute later, he had another great chance but curled the ball wide of the target. Messi punched the air in frustrating after that last attempt, as things were just really not going his way. Usually, if you give that man 4 or 5 chances, usually 2 or 3 go in. Tonight he was just not having the luck.
Not too much happened until the final 10 minutes. In the 84th minute, Argentinean midfielder Farinós got himself red carded after a second yellow, both for silly lunges into tackles. And with that, you felt Hércules were not going to get the equalizer. Just 3 minute later, Messi finally got the goal he was desperately looking for.
Messi and Alves played a few passes with each other on the right, Messi eventually used his great acceleration to burst towards the box, he could and at the time it seemed he should have played it back wide to Alves, but he cut into the middle, was running to his left, but then dragged the ball back across goal and this time, luck did shine on him when the ball crashed off the inner side of the post to make it 2-0. That goal was the 400th goal in just 157 games under Guardiola, which is simply astonishing. And I couldn’t have thought of a better man to score it.
Just after that, Villa and Xavi took a breather, and Noltio and Keita got a run out. In the 89th minute, Messi scored again to take the score to our average of 3 a game. It started out on the left side with Nolito, who played the ball across the box to Iniesta who was on the edge of the 18-yard box. He took it down in usual elegance before playing it wide to the overlapping Alves. The Brazilian then put in a perfect low cross across the goal and Messi was there for the easiest of tap ins.
And that was that. Afellay came on right at the end for Iniesta, and in the 91st minute Nolito had a decent chance to make it 4 but didn’t connect well with his shot.
This game at 3-0 looks a bit easier than it was. That’s not to say we were ever in trouble really, but Hércules gave a decent account of themselves. If they play like that, defend as well as they did at times, they should easily finish the season without relegation worries. So, it’s a 7 point lead again, with Madrid going to Pamplona tomorrow night to play Camacho’s Osasuna. I’m not getting my hopes up, but Pamplona can be a tough ground to visit. They play defensive, a bit dirty, and maybe we could see Mourinho’s men drop points tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
Barça: Valdés 7.5; Alves 7.5, Piqué 7, Abidal 8, Maxwell 7.5 ; Xavi 8 (Keita m88, 6), Busquets 8, Iniesta 8 (Afellay m 90, 6) ; Pedro 8.5, Messi 8, Villa 7 (Nolit m88, 6).