Four more goals from the unstoppable Leo Messi and another from Pedro Rodriguez earned Barça a 5-1 victory over Osasuna at Camp Nou tonight. The four-time Ballon d’Or winner put Barça in front early on before Raoul Loé fired in an equalizer after 23 minutes. Osasuna were reduced to ten men soon after when Alejandro Arribas was dismissed after two separate handballs. The second incident also won Barça a penalty which Messi hammered home, and from then in it was all too easy as Pedro, Messi and Messi again finished the job to put Barça eleven points clear at the top of La Liga after Atlético’s defeat at San Mames.
With an eye on Wednesday’s cup clásico, Jordi Roura made five changes to the team that won at Malaga in the quarter finals. Victor Valdés returned in goal for his first game at Camp Nou since his announcement that he won’t renew his contract – the crowd’s reaction to Valdés was generally positive. Adriano and Puyol came in for Jordi Alba and Piqué in defence, Thiago replaced Fabregas in midfield while up front we played with David Villa on the left instead of Andrés Iniesta.
The early pattern of the game saw Osasuna playing very high lines in an attempt to press in Barça’s half. In response Barça played the long ball much more often than usual and after just four minutes Puyol found Thiago making a dart through the middle. Despite the close attention of Marc Bertran and Arribas, Thiago managed to control with his chest before stabbing a shot that forced Osasuna keeper Andrés Fernandez into a full-stretch save.
Fernandez has been included on many lists as a possible replacement for Valdés. However, the goalkeeper at Barça needs to have good footwork and Fernandez let himself down after just eleven minutes. Messi played a long ball from just inside Barça’s half for Villa to chase, Fernandez had to come out but his kick went straight to Xavi who was about 35 yards out. Arribas came across quickly to prevent Xavi shooting straight for goal but Xavi played a delightful nutmeg before directing a perfect pass for Messi whose control left him one-on-one with Fernandez who fell for the Argentinian’s delightful dummy, and Messi was left to tap the ball into the empty net.
There was a timid reaction from Osasuna. Adriano was booked for a late tackle on Oier Sanjurjo and soon after Oier headed Osasuna’s first chance over before Valdés had to make his first save, catching Loé’s looping header under the crossbar. In the 18th minute Arribas was given his first yellow card when Pedro’s cross struck his outstretched arm, but after a volley wide from Xavi, Osasuna drew level. Bertran took a simple throw on the right to Oier, a lack of understanding between Thiago and Villa allowed Oier to send Bertran to the goal line, his cross was cut out by Adriano but the ball came straight out to Loé who fizzed a shot into the corner from 20 yards. Valdés would have had little chance even if his view hadn’t been obscured by Busquets.
Barça didn’t seem too troubled by the Osasuna goal and off we went in search of regaining the lead. Thiago found Pedro making a diagonal run but he wasn’t well balanced for the shot and fired over. Then in the 26th minute Adriano got forward and tried a typical curler from just outside the area, Arribas tried to get across to block but as he ducked his head he took his eye off the ball while leaving his arm out which the ball again struck. The second yellow card seemed harsh on the defender but he will have to learn to try and keep his arms by his sides in these situations. Messi stepped up and blasted home the penalty into the corner. Stop that? I think not!
With the numerical disadvantage Osasuna switched to a narrow 4-4-1, but this was textbook stuff for Barça as we stretched the play from one side to another and our full backs, especially the indefatigable Alves, took advantage of the space in front of them to push forward. In the 38th minute Busquets sent the pass for Alves’s surge and the Brazilian’s cross was met at the far post by Messi leaping above Beltran but his header crashed against the base of the post. Two minutes later Xavi chipped a pass forward for Alves who was clearly offside along with Pedro and Villa. The linesman’s flag inexplicably stayed down, Alves drew the keeper before squaring to Pedro who had an easy finish.
With a two-goal advantage playing at home to a ten-man team it would be normal for everybody to start thinking about the coming game with Real Madrid. Leo Messi, however, only has one thing on his mind when he’s on the football field, whatever the situation, and that is scoring the next goal. He had one ruled out for Pedro’s offside after 53 minutes, but three minutes later he received the ball 45 yards out, Osasuna were well positioned with their two lines of four between Messi and the goal. The Argentinian sent the ball left to Villa who took advantage of Beltran’s failure to cut the pass out, and when Villa sent the pass into the area Messi was quicker than everyone to take the ball wide of Fernandez before screwing the ball back in for his hat-trick.
Most would have been happy with that but not Messi. Less than two minutes later Adriano and Villa combined on the left, when Villa pulled the ball back sharply from the by-line Adriano crossed and Messi squeezed between Nano and Flaño to stab the ball past the helpless Fernandez. Could it be that after Cristiano’s hat-trick this morning Messi felt he had to go one better? Messi now has a remarkable 33 league goals and we are only 21 games into the season!
The game might have turned into a slaughter but unfortunately the last half an hour became the story of Alexis’s continued lack of confidence in front of goal. The Chilean, Fabregas and Song came on to give a rest to Pedro, Xavi and Busquets, and Barça continued to create chances. Villa and Thiago also had shots that failed to score but Alexis followed on his recent run of poor finishing with a series of failed chances. To be fair none of them were that easy, Messi’s pass was half a yard behind him which made it difficult to control, but there were also times when he chose to pass, giving the impression he was worried about taking the responsibility to shoot.
All in all it was a good performance without quite reaching the heights of last season’s 8-0 win in the corresponding fixture. The sending off of Arribas obviously made things easier for us but I don’t think there was any danger we wouldn’t win even when the score was 1-1. Osasuna’s initial high lines were not accompanied by a very aggressive pressing which gave us plenty of time to look for the forward pass. There were no fresh injury worries and the relative ease of the game means we should have plenty in reserve for Madrid on Wednesday.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 8, Puyol 7.5, Mascherano 7, Adriano 7.5; Xavi 8 (Fabregas m66, 7), Busquets 7 (Song m74, 6.5), Thiago 6.5; Pedro 7 (Alexis m61, 5.5), Messi 9.5, Villa 7.5.
Osasuna: Andrés Fernández; Marc Bertrán, Flaño (Ruben m68), Arribas, Nano; Oier, Lolo; Cejudo (Puñal m45), Raoul Loe, De las Cuevas (Masoud m45); Llorente.
Goals: m11 Messi 1-0, m23 Loe 1-1, m28 Messi (pen) 2-1, m40 Pedro 3-1, m56 Messi 4-1, m58 Messi 5-1.
Yellow cards: m13 Adriano, m18 Arribas, m26 Arribas (=red), m51 Oier.
Red cards: m26 Arribas, m31 Mendibilar (Osasuna coach)