Barça maintain the battle with AC Milan at the top of Uefa Champions League Group H after a one-sided 2-0 win over FC Viktoria Plzen at Camp Nou tonight. Andres Iniesta opened the scoring early on after a fine combination with Leo Messi, but despite dominating completely our finishing let us down and we had to wait until the 82nd minute before David Villa made sure of the three points.
I was expecting Pep Guardiola to leave a couple of players out with an eye on the Sevilla game at the weekend, but he chose what was probably his strongest available XI for the game, though this is course suggests that Carles Puyol is no longer considered a first-choice starter, but given that our captain is now 33 and only just back from a long injury process perhaps it is normal that he is rested more than others.
We didn’t take long to find ways through Viktoria’s defensive lines, with first Iniesta and Villa combining on the left in the first minute followed by a one-two-three-four between Alves and Messi in the second before Alves shot over. Messi was finding space as Viktoria preferred a zonal defence and in the tenth minute Iniesta surged forward bouncing a couple of passes off Messi before clipping the ball superbly inside Cisovsky and firing low past Cech into the corner.
If Viktoria wanted to come after an equaliser they showed few signs of it, two or three times they managed some neat passing moves to bring the ball out of defence but they were never good enough to keep the moves going to create any danger. In the end they spent most of the game with the entire team pinned back in an effort to keep the score down. We did manage to find some gaps into the area but our shooting was generally poor especially from the forwards, and the referee showed that Messi is not likely to get a penalty in Europe either, in the 23rd minute he was clearly grabbed across the shoulder but the referee preferred to give an inexistant offside instead.
Some of our football was fantastic, on one rare counter-attack Adriano sent a long ball for Villa to chase, the Asturian held the ball up before squaring to Messi who got past one but could then only hit Cech who had come out to narrow the angle. As half time approached the chances started coming thick and fast.Pedro fired over when it looked easier to score, then Busquets’s scooped pass sent Messi in on the right but he could only shoot into the side-netting, Villa’s pass found Pedro but he couldn’t find a shot as the ball ran out of play, and then on the stroke of half time Messi curled a free kick that smacked against the post with Cech beaten.
There was even less ambition from Viktoria in the second half with Valdés a spectator apart from having Dani Alves get in his way for one cross. It seemed it was just a matter of time before we scored again. Messi was as usual at the centre of everything, in the 54th minute he might have had another penalty but he kept his balance instead of falling and couldn’t quite squeeze the ball home. However, the best from Messi was yet to come, in the 60th minute he received the ball out on the right touchline, he beat left back Limbersky for speed, then hurdled the challenge from Bystron, skipped past Pilar but his final shot could only find the outside of the post.
The chances kept coming but the ball just didn’t want to go in. Alves’s cross was just milimetres away from Messi’s lunge with the goal gaping, then Messi reminded us of his splendid goal against Arsenal last year with a delicate clip over the goalkeeper but this time Limbersky was back to deny Messi of his goal. We were maintaining an awful lot of possession but as we entered the last ten minutes there was the uneasy feeling that we could still be robbed of victory. Then in the 82nd minute Villa robbed Petrzela on the halfway line before sprinting away towards goal, he touched the ball through to Messi but as Limbersky got his foot to the ball it broke back to Villa who hit the ball first time inside the left-hand post. The other forwards remained goalless, Pedro had a chance near the end after an excellent run but instead of shooting he chose to pass badly to Villa, and Messi had one last attempt in injury time going past two more defenders but it wasn’t to be his day as he again shot wide.
We shouldn’t be disappointed with this result. Yes, we should have scored more but the play was generally of a very high level and we never gave Viktoria a sniff of goal.
Barça: (4-3-3) Valdés 6.5; Alves 7, Mascherano 7.5, Abidal 7, Adriano 6; Xavi 6.5, Busquets 7, Iniesta 8 (Keita m85 –); Pedro 6, Mess 7.5, Villa 7.5 (Cuenca m88, –).
Viktoria: (4-2-3-1) Cech; Rajtoral, Bystron, Cisovsky Limbersky; Jirasek, Horvath; Petrzela (Darida m86), Kolar, Pilar (Fillo m75): Bakos (Duris m57)
Goals: m12 Iniesta 1-0, m82 Villa 2-0
No cards for either team: