FC Barcelona sit top of La Liga going into the international break after a hard-earned 0-1 victory in Gijón tonight. Adriano Correia may not be the most usual match-winner for us but tonight his early strike, after Xavi’s shot had rebounded off the post, proved to be the only goal of the game.
Indeed, it was Adriano who turned out to be the surprise on the teamsheet. With both Piqué and Puyol starting on the bench I have to admit I thought Adriano would be playing at left back with Abidal alongside Mascherano in a four-man defence, but I was wrong. Pep Guardiola surprised me with another adaptation of the 3-4-3 system we have seen this season. At the back we had Alves-Mascherano-Abidal though Alves was not going forward, at least not until the last half hour when we reverted to a 4-3-3 shape. In front of the defence we had Busquets as the defensive point of the midfield with Xavi close by to the right and Thiago on the left. Further forward on the wings we had Adriano on the right with Villa on the left which left Pedro and Messi to combine the false 9 and false 10 positions.
This was all very well and nobody was complaining when we took the lead after 11 minutes. We hadn’t done much up till then apart from a Villa shot over from the left. There didn’t seem much danger when Thiago passed the ball square inside to Xavi, but Xavi let fly from 30 yards and his drive smacked off the left hand post and flew straight into the path of Adriano who fired the ball back towards goal and was slightly fortunate to get a slight deflection which left Sporting keeper Juan Pablo with no chance.
As is often the case we played some of our best football immediately after the first goal. There was one neat combination between Villa and Thiago with Villa forcing Juan Pablo into a diving save, and there was one lovely nutmeg from Messi. Oscar Trejo also showed some neat skill for Sporting but then he headed wide Sporting’s first chance. The game was pretty open at this point as Sporting began to sense Barça’s defence of three wasn’t so solid and soon Alves had to make a vital last ditch tackle as De las Cuevas burst into the area. Though it would be fair to say it was still Barça who looked more likely to score again and Pedro came close to nicking the ball past Juan Pablo as the keeper dashed 30 yards out of his goal. In the 35th minute there appeared to be a pretty blatant penalty on Messi as he dribbled into the area but referee Clos Gomez waved play on.
The game began to look more complicated as we moved into the second half. Alves was close to losing the ball in a dangerous position and had to make an important recovery, and soon after that we needed a superb dash back from Abidal to cover the danger. The defence of three continued to look shaky until Eric Abidal pulled up holding the back of his leg with what looks like another muscle strain. Reports suggest he will be out for 10 days. Guardiola brought on both Piqué and Maxwell and we shuffled back to a 4-3-3 suggesting Guardiola sees certain players as more adept to the back three, but it must be said that we looked more comfortable in the last half hour. Keita came on to bolster things in midfield and Alves was allowed to get forward at last. Our best chance of a second came after Messi played a delightful ball to Adriano who was now playing left wing, but when the cross came in Messi’s header went straight at Juan Pablo. The game ended with Barça controlling things pretty comfortably though with just a goal in it there was always the chance of a costly slip-up.
As things are we can be satisfied with the performance. I am still not very happy with the three-man defence away from home. Yes, I know this system worked for Cruyff’s dream team but every now and again Cruyff’s dream team got turned over. The Pep team has always looked more solid than that without giving up on attacking flair. The three-man defence is a risk-taker which I’m quite happy to see at Camp Nou but I am worried it is going to cost us points away from home.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 8, Abidal 6.5 (Maxwell m53, 6.5); Busquets 7, Xavi 7, Thiago 6.5, Messi 7.5; Adriano 7 (Keita m79, 6.5), Pedro 6.5 (Piqué m54, 6,5), Villa 7.
Goal: m12 Adriano 0-1.
Barça yellow cards: m49 Pedro, m92 Busquets.