Two goals each from Cesc Fabregas and Leo Messi gave Barça a comfortable 4-0 lead to take to Pamplona for next Thursday’s second leg with Osasuna. The win was Barça’s 1,000th victory at Camp Nou in all competitions and Messi obviously didn’t want to miss the party despite being declared sick this morning. This evening Messi had recovered enough to be named amongst the substitutes, and the public were rewarded for braving the cold when he came on for the last half hour to score his brace.
Right from the beginning it was clear we were again with a back three of Puyol on the right, Piqué in the middle and Mascherano on the left and Osasuna came out to put them and Pinto under pressure. Having conceded a stupid early goal at the Bernabeu the wisdom of displaying our passing skills near our own goal in the first ten minutes of a game might be under question, and we did indeed suffer a couple of nervous moments for taking such risks though it should be said that Pinto’s footwork was very good tonight. When a game begins like this though it is almost guaranteed that we will see a cracking match and with Xavi and Busquets there to organise things it wasn’t long before we were taking control of the game and finding the spaces behind Osasuna’s advanced defence.
It was also the perfect sort of game for Fabregas to excel. He began playing alongside Cuenca in the centre of attack but his ability to pop up unexpectedly in different positions was to prove vital. We hadn’t done a great deal in the first exchanges but in the 14th minute Thiago sent a fine crossfield pass to Alves on the right, Alves knocked it inside to Xavi who waited for the channel to open before slipping the ball superbly through to Cesc arriving free on the left to sidefoot firmly past Osasuna keeper Riesgo for the first.
The first goal at Camp Nou is so often the signal for a blistering spell and the next ten minutes were sensational. The confidence was demonstrated first by Puyol appearing on the right wing and playing a one-two with Busquets on the edge of the area. And then it was confirmed with a magisterial finish from Fabregas for the second. Xavi played another typically precise ball into Cesc on the edge of the area, he turned, entered the area, and with Riesgo closing him down, lifted the ball over the helpless goalkeeper in a perfect lob that dropped snugly just under the bar. Golazo.
Two goals in 18 minutes but we weren’t letting up. Xavi hit one wide after a great build up, Thiago had one saved and Puyol popped up at centre forward to nearly score, all in the space of a couple of minutes. However, it wasn’t all good as Alves gave Osasuna one chance to break with a careless backheel and Mascherano was also guilty of a very risky crossfield pass in defence. However, it was generally a recital of passing and movement as Osasuna suffered to get near the ball and whenever they did get past the half-way line our defence, and especially Piqué were very solid with their challenges.
Our dominance was clear but the third goal wouldn’t come, perhaps we were lacking a true striker but we also had little luck as the referee missed a clear penalty on Cuenca early in the second half. With half an hour to go Guardiola decided to put on Messi and the move had its desired effect. We were almost treated to a wonder goal as Messi wriggled away from two before playing the wall pass off Alves but this time the Messi dink failed him as the ball just went wide of the far post.
There was still plenty of great build up work and it paid off with a third goal in the 73rd minute. Xavi and Alves had failed to get the ball into the middle but then up popped Cesc on the right wing to send in a delightfully flighted cross which Messi stormed in to head firmly past Riesgo from eight yards. Messi will win his third successive Ballon d’Or on Monday and he has begun 2012 showing signs he is clear favourite to win it again in 12 months time. He was denied again by Riesgo and then by the linesman’s flag but in injury time the efficiency of Xavi was demonstrated again as he picked out Messi with a quick forward pass and Messi showed his killer instinct again with a clinical finish from the edge of the area.
An excellent start to the year with another splendid display of passing and movement. The second goal from Cesc was a delight but I think my favourite moment in the whole game was just before half time as Osasuna struggled to clear from a corner, as we recovered the ball and Alves went forward before being fouled our two players who were furthest forward at this point were Puyol and Piqué! I know they had gone up for the corner but the fact that they stay up for the following attack was fantastic and not the only time we saw these two of the back three galloping forward. A real joy to watch. Here’s to another year of fantastic mind-blowing attacking football!
Barça: Pinto 7, Puyol 7, Piqué 8, Mascherano 6; Busquets 7.5, Xavi 9, Thiago 7; Alves 7.5, Fabregas 8.5, Cuenca 6.5 (Alexis m74, 6.5), Pedro 6.5 (Messi m60, 8).
Goals: m15 Fabregas 1-0, m18 Fabregas 2-0, m73 Messi 3-0, m91 Messi 4-0.
Barça yellow cards: m16 Fabregas, m31 Cuenca.