Barça beat Osasuna 1-2 tonight at the Reyna de Navarra stadium thanks to two late goals from Leo Messi. Joseba Llorente gave Osasuna the lead after 17 minutes and the home team looked like holding on as Barça fluffed chance after chance in a very disappointing performance until Messi popped up to steal the three points at the end.
With the return leg of the Supercopa at Real Madrid on Wednesday, Vilanova decided to rest Mascherano, Xavi and Pedro, meaning a return to the classic pairing of Piqué and Puyol at the back while Fabregas came in for Xavi in midfield, up front Alexis started on the right while there was another opportunity for Cristian Tello to show his talents on the left.
As expected Osasuna came at us from the kick off, in the first 30 seconds we lost possession from a throw-in near the corner flag, Cejudo slipped past Piqué and Valdés had to make a good save. For the first four minutes Barça hardly crossed the half way line but then Iniesta sent Alexis through to force the first save from Osasuna’s keeper Andrés Fernandez.
Osasuna continued to make Barça uncomfortable with their high intensity pressing but Barça were slowly getting to grips with the game. On 11 minutes Iniesta tried a curler that just missed the far top corner, then from a similar position a couple of minutes later Tello whipped in a low shot against the outside of the post.
In a game with not too many fouls (Osasuna 18 Barça 10 at the end) the referee Muñiz Fernandez complicated things with little help from his linesman. Osasuna were playing with a very high defence and in the 17th minute Alexis found the pass to send Messi clean through but the linesman erroneously flagged for offside. With Messi you could probably say he would score on 70% of such occasions, but having been robbed of a possible 0-1 play went straight up the other end and Osasuna scored. There didn’t seem a great deal of danger as Sisi passed to Lamah out on the left, maybe Busquets might have closed him down a little more but Lamah sent in a dangerous curling cross which found Joseba Llorente at the far post, and with Jordi Alba not doing enough to defend, Llorente jumped to side foot a volley past Valdés from about four yards.
The goal was a good test for Barça’s attitude but at first we seemed to be lacking the mental strength necessary. After Fernandez had saved brilliantly from Tello, moving right before diving back low to his left, and then Iniesta missed two good chances in the space of a couple of minutes it seemed to affect the whole team. Apart from Iniesta playing like he’d put on the wrong size boots, Cesc Fabregas’s lack of participation was also disappointing.
Osasuna might have made it 2-0 after 33 minutes after a Puyol mistake led to a scramble with Valdés and then Piqué blocking successive shots from Lamah and Llorente. Messi had also been quiet but he began to appear at the end of the first half. First he had a free kick comfortably saved and soon after he tried to take the ball around Andres Fernandez after Iniesta’s pass but the Osasuna keeper did well to stretch an arm out and turn the ball away. Then in the 44th minute after a quickly-taken free-kick Messi and then Iniesta both forced saves from Fernandez.
There was the familiar pattern in the second half of Barça possession as Osasuna began to sit deeper to defend their lead. As a result the chances dried up and Messi was forced into shooting weakly with his right foot in an attempt to find a way through. In the 61st minute Puyol made another mistake with a clearance going straight to Sisi whose shot was very well saved by the diving Valdés.
At this point Barça were looking defeat in the face and the reaction wasn’t coming. Pedro came on for Fabregas but the best chances were still falling to Osasuna. In the 63rd minute Llorente headed wide and then a couple of minutes later Lamah was allowed to run 50 yards down the left before shooting but Valdés made another very good save, tipping the ball past the far post.
Vilanova decided to bring on Xavi for Iniesta in the 70th minute but the game could have been all over soon after when Busquets got in a muddle trying to be too clever near his own goal and he was robbed by Sisi who dashed away before sending a shot against the outside of the post. Vilanova complained that Busquets had been fouled by Sisi and despite his gesture being nothing out of the ordinary, he was sent from the dugout.
Soon after Messi sent Alexis through but surrounded by defenders his shot went straight at the keeper. Barça then brought on Villa for Tello with 15 minutes remaining as one last throw of the dice and a minute later Barça were level though the goal had little to do with the Asturian. Messi received the ball in the centre circle and assisted by the referee getting in the way of Puñal, he turned and ran at the defence before assisting Alexis (in an offside position missed by the linesman) who played the ball onto Pedro on the right, the momentum seemed to have gone from the attack but Pedro turned 360º to escape the attention of two defenders before firing in a low cross which was only cleared as far as Alexis who nipped past a challenge and squared for Messi to stab the ball home from six yards.
The goal came as a massive relief and to make things even better the ref sent off the unfortunate Puñal for protesting. Suddenly the game was there for the taking and it took just five more minutes to find the decisive goal. Villa received the ball on the left and played the ball inside to Xavi while dragging the full back out of position, Xavi then played the ball into the space created for the overlapping Alba whose low cross came to Messi who swept the ball past Fernandrz from 15 yards.
Not surprisingly ten-man Osasuna struggled to react to the double blow after so much effort earlier in the game. Apart from one forward run and cross from Lamah and a corner that was comfortably cleared there was little more to worry our defence and despite 4 minutes injury time we held out for the victory.
To be honest despite being delighted to have won the three points tonight there was little else to be happy about. Last season we lost here 3-2 on a frozen pitch but today there was little in the conditions to explain the number of mistakes we made. Perhaps we should recall in our most successful recent seasons (2008/09 and 2010/11) we had a very poor match near the beginning of the season, losing to Numancia and Hercules, but that didn’t prevent us from going on to win Liga and Champions League. Today we should just be thankful that despite a pretty poor performance we took the points and sit top of the league tonight, and just as I finish my report the news comes in that Madrid have lost 2-1 at Getafe giving us an early five-point advantage over our most dangerous rivals. Sleep well culés!
Osasuna: Andrés Fernández; Marc Bertrán, Flaño, Arribas, Damiá; Cejudo, Puñal; Raoul, Lamah, Sisi; Llorente.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6, Piqué 6.5, Puyol 5.5, Alba 5.5; Fabregas 5 (Pedro m62, 7), Busquets 6, Iniesta 5 (Xavi m70, 7); Alexis 6, Messi 6.5, Tello 5.5 (Villa m75, 6).
Goals: m17 Llorente 1-0, m75 Messi 1-1, m80 Messi 1-2
Yellow cards: Osasuna 5 Barça 3 (Piqué, Puyol, Pedro)
Red cards: Tito Vilanova m71, Puñal m76.