Barça’s 2012/2013 league season began brilliantly tonight with a 5-1 demolition of Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. With Tito Vilanova in charge of his first official game, captain Carles Puyol took just over three minutes to head Barça in front. Chori Castro pulled a goal back soon after before two quick goals from the irrestible Leo Messi put Barça 3-1 up after just 16 minutes. Further goals from Pedro and substitute David Villa in his first official game in eight months, put the icing on the cake of this fine performance.
Vilanova surprised in his first line-up by the inspired choice of including Cristian Tello on the left wing while Andres Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez and David Villa all started on the bench. The intention was clear from the beginning that Barça wanted to use the width of the pitch with Tello and Pedro staying wide with support from full backs Alba and Alves while Messi, Cesc and Xavi tried to use the spaces through the middle.
However, the first goal came from the unexpected route of our first corner. Xavi swung the ball to the near post where Puyol escaped the attention of Ansotegi to head firmly past Real’s Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo. Real almost hit back immediately but Antoine Griezmann just failed to force home Xavi Prieto’s dangerous cross. Barça had been warned but just four minutes later we allowed Real to equalize after Alves came across to the middle to cover Illarramendi, leaving Chori Castro free on the left to beat Valdés with a high drive inside the near post.
If there was a moment of doubt around Camp Nou it was dispelled almost immediately by Messi. Tello played a ball from left to right which found Pedro who touched it back inside to Messi whose quick feet got him past Mikel Gonzalez before lashing a fierce shot past Bravo from 14 yards. Eleven minutes played: 2-1 to Barça.
Barça were really buzzing now and five minutes later Tello began another move on the left, squaring the ball inside to Messi whose initial shot was deflected back to Tello who reacted quickly to send in a quick low cross and Messi was on hand to toe-poke the ball in at the near post. Messi might have completed his hat-trick a minute later but he couldn’t keep Alves’s cross down, heading narrowly over the bar.
The intensity of the first twenty minutes could not be maintained but Barça were controlling things nicely with Alba looking very composed at left back. There was very little danger now from Real though Castro had one hopeful shot go well wide and Elustondo had one magnificent effort from the halfway line that had Valdés backpeddling to tip the ball over the bar.
For Barça the next good chance came in the 36th minute with Cesc’s return pass setting up Messi for a low drive that Bravo put round the post for a corner. Then four minutes before the break a long flowing build-up ended with Xavi feeding Tello on the left and the youngster did well to pick out Pedro at the far post who scored with a calm side-foot volley across the keeper and inside the far post.
As is so often the case when a big lead has been built up the second half was not as good though there were still some showcase combinations to have the crowd purring. There was a quite brilliant double one-two between Messi and Pedro but Messi’s final shot hit the side netting.
Piqué and Iniesta were brought on and both appeared keen to show they shouldn’t be left on the bench. Piqué made a couple of very well timed tackles while also getting into the opposition’s area to give a backheel which set up a chance for Pedro, and Iniesta continued his good preseason form and had one left foot drive straight at Bravo.
There was a drive from Xavi that brought a diving save but it was with the introduction of Villa with 15 minutes remaining that brought the game to life again. There was a tremendous ovation for Villa and he immediately got involved with a backheel here and a flick there and showing his understanding with Alba from their days at Valencia. After one exchange of passes Alba got into the area, pulling it back for Messi whose shot was comfortably stopped by Bravo.
The best moment was reserved for Villa, after less than ten minutes on the pitch, he played the ball inside to Iniesta who did brilliantly to get to the byline before playing it back to the Asturian who fired a left foot special inside Bravo’s far post. Villa’s celebration of taking off his shirt to reveal the message “imposible sin vosotras” (impossible without you) with a picture of his family to thank them for their support through his long recuperation process was quite moving. The fact that players still get booked for taking off their shirt to celebrate a goal is one of the idiot laws that we unfortunately have in football and is only due to sponsors who want their publicity seen at this moment. Very sad and also very dumb and totally against the spirit of the moment when a player should be allowed to express himself.
I shouldn’t start moaning after such a good victory but I’m also annoyed by the new timetable for Spanish football which means some games will start as late as 11pm at night. I shouldn’t need to point out the inconvenience to so many people that these kick-off times will cause. But hey-ho, I suppose if they want the teams to play at three in the morning live from Beijing or Los Angeles then that is what we will get.
And while I’m on the subject of dumbass decisions, why the hell are we playing the Gamper tomorrow? A day after our opening league match and three days before we face Real Madrid in the first leg of the Supercopa. The attendance tonight of only 57,000 is a good indication that some people thought it better to come tomorrow night for the party atmosphere. Not a good decision but the important thing is we got off to an excellent start and with Madrid only drawing at home to Valencia we already have a two-point advantage over our most dangerous rival. Well done Tito, keep up the good work.
Barça: Valdés 6.5; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 7, Puyol 7 (Piqué m51, 7.5), Alba 7; Xavi 7, Busquets 6.5, Fabregas 6.5 (Iniesta m58, 7.5); Pedro 7 (Villa m75, 7.5), Messi 8, Tello 7.5.
Goals: 1-0 Puyol m4, 1-1 Castro m9, 2-1 Messi m11, 3-1 Messi m16, 4-1 Pedro m41, 5-1 Villa m84.
Barça yellow cards: Puyol m23, Mascherano m39 villa m85.