Barça stay top of La Liga for another week after a comfortable 3-1 win over Zaragoza at Camp Nou tonight. Leo Messi put Barça on the road to victory after quarter of an hour before Paco Montañes equalized soon after. Alex Song put Barça back in front with his first goal for the club and Messi completed the job in the second half with his second goal of the night and 78th goal of 2012.
Carles Puyol returned to the team after dislocating his elbow against Benfica six weeks ago, reforming the Piqué-Puyol partnership that hadn’t started at Camp Nou together since the Champions League semi-final with Chelsea at the end of last season. Alex Song came in for the suspended Busquets while Tito Vilanova’s only slight surprise was to prefer Martin Montoya at right back over Dani Alves who played with Brazil against Colombia in New Jersey on Wednesday.
However, it was from the left side that Barça would create most danger with the constant forward runs from Jordi Alba. In the second minute Iniesta and Villa combined before Alba appeared on the overlap to cross for Messi near to the penalty spot but he sent his shot inches wide of the post. Alba was forward again in the ninth minute, playing the ball inside to Iniesta whose shot was blocked. Then in the 16th minute Messi surged forward from midfield, holding off Apoño’s challenge before playing the out to Alba on the left, when Alba’s pass came back inside Alvaro lunged in to try and intercept the pass but missed the ball, allowing Messi to control before firing a quick low shot from just inside the area that gave Zaragoza keeper Roberto no chance.
There had been little sign of Zaragoza going forward though as we have seen so often our opponents can score without doing more than winning a couple of corners. When Puyol cleared Zaragoza’s first corner after 19 minutes there was hope that our captain would make the difference at the back. However, three minutes later Zaragoza won two more corners in quick succession and from the second, taken from the right by Victor Rodriguez, the ball was flicked on at the near post and Montoya could only clear as far as Montañes on the edge of the area and his shot took a slight deflection off Puyol, giving Valdés no chance to prevent the equalizer.
Barça went straight back in search of regaining the lead. Xavi sent a dangerous through ball for Messi to chase but Roberto raced out of his goal to beat him to the ball. Then in the 29th minute Xavi took a Barça style corner, sending the ball 30 yards back to find Iniesta in space. Iniesta pushed the ball into the area for Messi – Raul Goni and Victor Rodriguez were both in close attendance but Messi wriggled away from the pair of them before finding another gear to stride clear of Aranda before pulling the ball back to Song whose sidefoot shot from 16 yards beat Roberto and the defenders on the line.
Zaragoza responded with Victor Rodriguez shooting wide of the far post as Barça had a few wobbly moments at the back. Song had a good game in possession of the ball with his quick feet getting him out of trouble a couple of times, however, he still has moments of misunderstanding with his teammates, one time going for the same ball as Puyol which gave a less than solid feel to our game. Iniesta tried to sneak a cheeky goal past Roberto from a tight angle but the first half ended with Zuculini’s 25-yard drive going just wide of the post.
The second half was less eventful than the first. Barça looked to control the game with the result being less action at both ends. However, in these situations the patient game from Barça eventually opens up our opponents. Martin Montoya was not very active going forward but in the 60th minute he made a powerful surge up the right to receive from Messi and then instead of crossing into the area he pulled the ball back to Messi lurking on the edge of the area and Messi sent his shot perfectly into the far corner with the ball bouncing in off the base of the post.
The game dropped in the last half hour as Barça saw out time. Tello came on to offer some pace on the left but his crosses failed to find a finisher. Alvaro and Postiga had headers wide for Zaragoza but there was little danger of conceding another goal. With ten minutes remaining Iniesta sent a curler onto the crossbar but by the end both sides seemed content with the score and the keepers had nothing more to do.
This seemed a fairly straightforward victory for us though we might have found it a lot more difficult without Messi. He now has 17 goals and 6 assists in 12 league games this season and you’ll have to forgive me if I fail to remember all the records he could break or has broken after each game though Cesar’s Barça league goals record will go soon while it’s going to be a close thing to see if he can score eight more to beat Gerd Muller’s record for goals in one calendar year. Jordi Alba also deserves a mention today for another splendid attacking display. It is interesting to see how the focus of our attacks has switched from right to left since Alba’s signing. His understanding with Villa, Iniesta, and above all with Messi is proving to be a very valuable asset to Vilanova, and one of the key reasons for the team’s successful start to the season.
Barça: Valdés 7; Montoya 6.5, Piqué 6.5, Puyol 7 (Bartrá m75, 7), Alba 8; Xavi 7.5, Song 6.5, Iniesta 7; Pedro 6.5 (Fabregas m78, 7), Messi 8.5, Villa 6.5 (Tello m61, 7).
Zaragoza: Roberto; Raul Goni, Álvaro, Pinter, Paredes; Zuculini (Wilchez m58), Movilla, Apoño, Paco Montañes; Víctor Rodriguez (Helder Postiga m74), Aranda (Babovic m81).
Goals: m16 Messi 1-0, m23 Montañes 1-1, m29 Song 2-1, m60 Messi 3-1.
Yellow card: m48 Zuculini.