A goal from Borja Oubiña three minutes from time robbed Barça of victory over Celta at Balaidos tonight. Natxo Insa had put the hosts in front seven minutes before the break but Cristian Tello equalized soon after to make it 1-1 at the break. Barça took the lead with just over fifteen minutes to play as Leo Messi extended his consecutive-league-games-scoring record to 19, meaning he has now scored against every other team in La Liga in his incredible run. However, Barça were denied the victory as Oubiña stole in at the far post to head home Celta’s late equalizer.
While Tito Vilanova remained in Barcelona, Jordi Roura continued in charge of leading the team from the touchline. With Tuesday’s Champions League game at Paris Saint Germain in mind, Mascherano, Busquets, Iniesta and Villa were rested and started on the bench along with 19-year-old Gerard Deulofeu and Eric Abidal. The team lined up with Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Montoya, Thiago, Song, Fabregas, Alexis, Messi and Tello.
Celta coach Abel Resino set his team in a 4-4-1-1 formation with a high defence that Barça would look to exploit through Tello’s speed on the left. However, early on there was little from either side though the hosts won a couple of corners, and from the second Augusto Fernandez had the ball in Barça’s net but the effort was disallowed for a clear offside.
Barça were struggling to make much headway with Thiago and Fabregas finding it difficult to connect with the forwards. Meanwhile, there was little from Celta at the other end with just a timid shout for a penalty from Park though the Korean was guilty of pulling Bartrá’s shoulder before he went down.
The game began to come to life after 25 minutes. First, Messi sent a dangerous free kick towards Alexis and the ball was only just intercepted by Demidov who put the ball out for a corner. A couple of minutes later, Fernandez sent in a low cross from Celta’s right, there appeared to be no danger but Piqué sliced the ball horribly towards his own goal and Pinto had to make a magnificent diving save to his left before springing to his feet to save Park’s rebound for good measure.
Barça responded with Messi getting more involved. A run into the area ended with the four-time Ballon d’Or winner going down under Demidov’s challenge though the referee Mateu Lahoz considered that Messi had looked for the contact. Then the Argentinian made a brilliant turn to send Tello into the area but the winger blazed the chance wide.
The game was fairly equal at this point though Celta took the lead after an excellent quick exchange of passes ended with Pranjic finding Orellana inside the area on the right, the Chilean forward cut inside before slipping a pass through to Insa who made a late run into the area to stab the ball past Pinto.
A goal down and Barça still hadn’t tested Celta’s keeper Javi Varas. Messi gave his old foe his first work with a curling free kick but Varas dived to his left to save. Then two minutes before half time, Messi collected the ball near the centre spot and sent a chipped pass over the top of Celta’s back line which Tello controlled in his stride before the typical Tello finish, curling a low shot in off the far post.
Barça’s first half had been pretty disappointing but with the equalizer there was hope for a better second half. However, as in the first half there was little action near the goals in the first few minutes. There wasn’t a shot until the 57th minute when Fernandez got away from Montoya and pulled back a cross that Piqué couldn’t intercept and Park whipped his effort wide.
Barça were not finding shooting opportunities but Celta were beginning to tire and the visitors began to look more dangerous. Messi chased down Jony in the area, forcing the right-back to pass straight to Tello but he couldn’t get past Cabral and had to settle for a corner. Tello then sent a fine pass into Alexis though the Chilean only won a yellow card for using his arm as he attempted to control the ball.
Barça began to raise the pace, bringing on Iniesta and Villa for Thiago and Alexis. Messi had a right foot attempt go over. Then, Tello nearly found Villa after an excellent run down the left but Lago got across well to intercept the dangerous low cross. Barça’s pressure finally paid off in the 73rd minute. Messi received the ball 35 yards out and sent a long ball to the left where Tello arrived to cut back a first time cross towards the penalty spot which was met by Messi, sweeping the ball home to continue his goal-scoring streak with his 43rd league goal of the season.
The game seemed over at this point and Barça didn’t seem to have too many problems to maintain possession. In the 84th minute, Busquets came on for Fabregas as Barça’s third substitute, meaning both Abidal and Deulofeu will have to wait for another day for a first team playing opportunity. Busquets was unfortunately not his usual reliable self. Just four minutes after coming on he kept the ball in play by the corner flag only to send a poor ball up the line that was intercepted, the ball coming inside to Orellana who lofted a cross to the far post where Oubiña stole in behind Alves to head past Pinto for the equalizer.
Throwing away a victory like this is always frustrating though given Real Madrid’s draw at Zaragoza we shouldn’t be too worried about it affecting our chances for La Liga. Today’s was a pretty disjointed performance with the midfield of Song, Thiago and Fabregas failing to impose our normal rhythm. Practically, all the danger we created came through the Messi-Tello connection which worked pretty well though there was another below-par performance from Alexis, and there was also a lack of forward runs from our full backs, with Montoya as expected, playing a more defensive game. Meanwhile, the defensive pairing of Bartrá and Piqué (with Piqué on the left side) lacked a bit of understanding in the first half although they improved after the break.
Now it’s on to Paris on Tuesday where we should field a much stronger team. Valdés, Mascherano, Busquets, Iniesta and Villa should all return to the starting eleven while there is optimism that Jordi Alba and Xavi will also make it in time. Hopefully, Tito Vilanova will also be well enough to make the trip which will be another big boost to the team. Today’s big news was that Eric Abidal made the match squad for the first time since his liver operation. He didn’t play, and we may not have won three points tonight, but Abidal’s recovery is reason for rejoicing. Just having him on the bench was Barça’s victory today.
Celta: (4-4-1-1) Javi Varas; Jony, Cabral, Demidov, Lago; Augusto Fernandez, Natxo Insa (Madinda m80), Oubiña, Pranjic (De Lucas m69); Orellana; Park Chu Young (Bermejo m60).
Barça: (4-3-3) Pinto 7.5; Alves 6, Bartrá 6, Piqué 6, Montoya 7; Thiago 5.5 (Iniesta m65, 6), Song 6.5, Fabregas 6 (Busquets m84, 5.5); Alexis 5.5 (Villa m68, 6), Messi 8, Tello 7.5.
Goals: m38 Insa 1-0, m43 Tello 1-1, m73 Messi 1-2, m88 Oubiña 2-2.
Yellow cards: m25 Fabregas, m32 Cabral, m41 Oubiña, m62 Lago, m64 Alexis, m87 Fernandez, m88 Busquets.