With the big game coming up soon at Real Madrid it was vital that we made no mistakes against Zaragoza tonight at Camp Nou. A competent rather than excellent performance proved to be more than enough against a poor opponent and goals from Gerard Piqué, Leo Messi, Carles Puyol and David Villa earned us the three points.
With some players recovering from international duty and a big game at the San Siro on Wednesday it was not so surprising to see a starting lineup without Mascherano, Iniesta, Villa, Abidal, Busquets and Pedro. Leo Messi did start which seems to confirm that he is fit enough these days to play twice a week no matter how many airport terminals he has passed through and he was accompanied up front with Isaac Cuenca and Alexis playing wide with Cesc Fabregas supporting with runs forward from midfield. Zaragoza’s defensive formation meant that our 4-3-3 might better be described as 2-5-3 as Alves and Maxwell also pushed forward, in the 9th minute our first chance arrived after Alves surged forward before finding Fabregas darting into the right of the area, Cesc managed a dangerous cross but it just eluded Messi’s lunge and when Alexis screwed the ball back across goal Zaragoza keeper Roberto was quick to pounce before Messi could recover.
With Puyol and Piqué in the team we had a bit more attacking power for set pieces and in the 16th minute Puyol had a great chance but he only got a slight touch on Messi’s corner which left him beating the post in frustration. However, a couple of minutes later Fabregas was fouled just outside the area on the left, Xavi swung in the cross and Piqué escaped from his marker to head home from close in.
Zaragoza did manage a brief moment of danger but Postiga’s shot hit Piqué but there followed a period of intense pressure on the Zaragoza goal but we couldn’t make it count. First Cuenca sent in Messi but he failed to flick the ball past Roberto and then when Messi recovered the rebound he could only find the side-netting despite another darting run. A minute later Messi forced another save from Roberto, Cesc was blocked as he tried to force in the rebound and then the ball broke to Alexis who was denied by yet another Roberto save. As we piled on the pressure Alexis combined well with Messi who was blocked after beating two defenders and when the ball broke Maxell fired in a bullet that was beaten away by Roberto. As half time approached Roberto saved again from Alexis after a classy Fabregas flick, but eventually our insistence paid off just before the break, Cuenca played the ball to Cesc who sent a smart pass into Messi who went past Lanzaro with ease before firing right-footed across Roberto into the far corner.
Javier Aguirre brought on Lafita and Ruben Micael at half time but the second half began with another save from Roberto, probably his best of the game, to prevent Fabregas converting Messi’s excellent assist. We did then see a brief spell from Zaragoza with Lafita having a shot blocked by Keita and soon after it was Lafita again who managed a shot after a good run past Piqué and Maxwell. However, this brief spell soon ended and Barça were soon further ahead. Zaragoza failed to clear a free kick and as play continued Fabregas spotted Keita’s run and chipped the ball into the far post, Keita rose above Paredes to head the ball down for Puyol who forced the ball home from the ground after Roberto had stopped his first effort.
Guardiola brought on Iniesta and Thiago and if anything our dominance increased in the last half an hour. Iniesta came agonisingly close to a goal but his poke rolled just wide after another great assist from Messi but it was our third substitute, David Villa, who added to the score heading in at the far post after Cuenca had beaten his man and crossed from the right. The assist seemed to lift Cuenca who finished the game very well showing one moment of skill to skip away from two opponents. It was a shame that Cuenca couldn’t cap his performance with a goal when he fired over in injury time after another burst into the area from Messi.
This was probably the sort of game we all expected and I should insist that Zaragoza were pretty poor. In is nice to know we can win so easily without anybody playing particularly well and I have the feeling that if Messi had really had his night we might have scored eight tonight. The finishing wasn’t great but it was encouraging to see players like Cuenca and Maxwell doing such a competent job which stresses that we do have strength in depth. it was also great to see our centre back pairing of Puyol and Piqué both getting on the score sheet. We need both these players back to their best as soon as possible as we will no doubt be put under more pressure by other teams. On Wednesday we face Milan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Champions League, I’m sure it’s one we all want to win whether we need the victory or not. Zlatan’s probably done us a favour by winding us up with his comments in his book but we will need our defence at its best to keep him quiet. Finally a mention for Victor Valdés who despite having practically nothing to do all night has now completed ten straight clean sheets in La Liga at Camp Nou.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Puyol 6.5, Piqué 7, Maxwell 7; Xavi 7 (Thiago m56, 6.5), Keita 6.5, Fabregas 7 (Villa m67, 6.5); Cuenca 7, Messi 7.5, Alexis 6.5 (Iniesta m56, 7.5).
Goals: m18 Piqué 1-0, m43 Messi 2-0, m54 Puyol 3-0, m75 Villa 4-0.
Barça yellow cards: m61 Piqué, m88 Alves