Football Club Barcelona move to within three points of Real Madrid tonight after a 1-4 win over Zaragoza. Carlos Aranda gave La Romareda hope, putting the hosts in front after half an hour, and it could have been two-nil if Victor Valdés hadn’t saved an earlier penalty. Barça turned things round with goals from Carles Puyol and Leo Messi before the break and the sending off of our ex-B team player Abraham Minero left Zaragoza with only ten men for the entire second half. The task proved too tough for the Aragonese team and Barça completed the job with a Messi penalty which was his sixtieth goal of the season, and a much needed goal for Pedro in injury time.
With Gerard Piqué nursing a hamstring Pep Guardiola moved Puyol back to central defence and brought in Adriano at left back. Guardiola decided to rest his entire first choice midfield trio of Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta bringing in Keita and Thiago to partner Cesc Fabregas, while we played a classic Alexis-Messi-Pedro up front.
Without our normal midfield we opted for more longer balls than usual, perhaps this was a deliberate tactic due to the long grass on the Romareda pitch. Zaragoza came out to play a very intense game and their early fouls also broke our rhythm- Besides one cross from Alexis after a neat back-heel from Cesc, and a Messi turn and shot that was blocked we created little danger.
Zaragoza coach Manolo Jiménez left Helder Postiga on the bench and played Aranda as the main striker. The move seemed an intelligent one as the more mobile Aranda gave our defence problems. In the 24th minute a ball from the left found Aranda in the area and he was unlucky to see his effort come out off the post, as he struggled with Puyol for the rebound, Lafita also dashed in and was brought down by Valdés. The ref booked Valdés but our keeper had the last laugh diving to his left to save Aranda’s spot kick and then recovering to get across goal to save the rebound.
This should have been a warning to us but we were still missing out on the fifty-fifty balls. Then in the 30th minute Alvarez sent a swift ball through the inside right channel which Mascherano failed to deal with and Aranda was in on goal again, Valdés held his ground brilliantly to stop Aranda’s shot but then in a complete fluke moment the ball rebounded off Valdés and onto the unsuspecting ducking head of Aranda and straight back past Valdés and in.
With half an hour gone we needed a reaction and fortunately we got one. Alexis had a shot well saved and Cesc’s rebound was deflected wide. Fabregas took the corner and Zaragoza keeper Roberto made a hash of coming for it and only succeeded in palming the ball to Puyol who volleyed the ball back past the keeper for the equalizer.
Barça had only been behind for six minutes, and three minutes later we were in front. If Zaragoza had a lucky rebound off Aranda’s head for their goal, Barça had the ball flying off Dani Alves’s face to start a counter attack, Alexis sped away into Zaragoza’s half before switching the ball left to Messi who was sprinting to get forward, Messi controlled the ball on his chest and there was a moment when the ball bounced between him and the defender, the difference here was that the defender took his eye off the ball and span around in a confused circle while Messi kept his eye firmly on the ball before cracking a belter past Roberto into the top corner.
This was bad enough for Zaragoza after their brief glimpse of a possible dream victory, but then things got worse as Abraham got a second yellow after pulling at Alexis’s shorts. As soon as this happened you knew that Zaragoza’s chance had gone. Coach Jiménez was ordered off early in the second half for protesting a Thiago challenge, and with Busquets coming on for Keita the control of the situation became complete. Alexis shot at the goalkeeper with Cesc free in the middle, and Adriano just failed to find Cesc after another brilliant moment of Messi twice changing direction to find the pass through to Adriano.
Messi and Thiago both missed clear chances for Barça’s third before Parades brought down the ever-active Alexis and Messi blasted high and straight for his sixtieth goal of the season from the penalty. Finally in injury time with Barça playing a long team build-up, Pedro found Messi who lobbed the ball back for Pedro to side foot home the fourth.
Not the easiest win and not the prettiest. Given our tough games over the last ten days with Milan and Athletic we did well to maintain a good level without Xavi and Iniesta in the team, though we did not get off to the best of starts. The reaction after the goal was good though of course the sending off of Abraham made things easier. We got the breaks when we needed them with the early penalty save and then two goals at the end of each half. the pressure is back on Madrid now to beat Valencia, while Barça will be back in action on Tuesday when Getafe visit Camp Nou.
Zaragoza: Roberto, Álvarez, Paredes, Da Silva, Abraham, Zuculini, Pinter, Obradovic (m65 Lazaro), Micael (m81 J.Carlos), Lafita, Aranda (m65 Postiga)
Barça: Valdes 8, Alves 7 (m67 Montoya, 7), Puyol 7.5 Mascherano 7, Adriano 6.5; Thiago 7.5, Keita 6.5 (m55 Busquets 7.5), Fabregas 7 (m89 Xavi, –); Alexis 8, Messi 8, Pedro 7.
Goals: m30 Aranda 1-0, m36 Puyol 1-1, m39 Messi 1-2, m86 Messi (pen) 1-3, m92 Pedro 1-4
Yellow cards: m24 Valdés, m34 Abraham, m42 Keita, m44 Abraham (2nd=red) m57 Adriano, m57 Micael, m82 Lanzaro, m86 Fabregas, m90 Thiago