A goal from Thiago Alcantara and a brace from Cristian Tello earned Barça a 0-3 victory over Zaragoza at La Romareda tonight. The win moves Barça onto 81 points at the top of Liga and now just nine more points are needed from the remaining seven games to confirm the 22nd league title for the blaugrana.
With the intention of having the strongest possible team available for the Champions League semi-final in nine days time Tito Vilanova was always going to make several changes to the team. There was a slight surprise perhaps to see Xavi starting in midfield though this can be taken as a positive sign that he is over his injury. Victor Valdés was back in goal in La Liga after his four-match suspension and Barça lined up with Valdés, Alves, Bartra, Adriano, Montoya, Xavi, Song, Thiago, Alexis, Fabregas and Tello.
Besides a curler wide from Tello after just 45 seconds the game was slow to get going. There were early mistakes from Adriano and Song as Barça struggled to find rhythm. There wasn’t another chance until the 17th minute when Fabregas slipped a pass through for Alexis to cross from the right, the ball came to Tello on the edge of the area but he blazed his shot well over.
Zaragoza were trying to play an advanced back four while playing the ball forward quickly to try and test Barça’s makeshift defence. However, Victor Valdés had little to do and it wasn’t until the 19th minute that the home team had a shooting opportunity when Movilla’s shot was deflected out for a corner by Montoya. Barça cleared the ball from the corner and Fabregas gave the ball to Thiago who took the ball from 20 yards inside the Barça half to 20 yards inside the Zaragoza half while shrugging off a challenge. Thiago then played the ball right to Alexis while continuing his run to the edge of the area to receive Alexis’s return, taking the ball into the area before shooting low and in off the far post.
With the goal advantage Barça looked to keep possession though the movement of the ball wasn’t as fluent as usual with players taking too many touches before passing the ball on. Zaragoza occasionally caused problems with lofted balls forward and a couple of times our defence was guilty of not getting to the first header. The most worrying moment from a bouncing ball in the area was when Victor Rodriguez went down after Song caught him in the face when shielding the ball back to Valdés but referee Fernandez Borbalon waved play on.
Barça’s hesitant approach going forward created little danger, especially with Alves and Tello crossing poorly. Then in the 39th minute Xavi played a long ball out to Tello on the left, the winger played the ball inside to Thiago who threaded a pass back and Tello’s speed beat the offside trap and as Roberto dived to cover the expected shot for the far post, Tello cleverly slotted his shot away from the keeper’s dive and inside the near post.
Barça might have made it 0-3 before half-time when Tello’s low cross was poorly cleared straight to Alexis but the Chilean’s shot from 15 yards was saved by Roberto with his legs. Then in the first minute of the second half Alves’s pass up the line was headed on well by Fabregas, sending Alexis to the edge of the area where he attempted a splendid chip but was denied a goal by the crossbar.
However, Barça didn’t have to wait long for the third goal. With Zaragoza pushing players forward Thiago won the ball back and sent a long pass out to Tello, it was three against three with another Zaragoza player coming back but Tello was allowed to advance into the area where he left Loovens for dead with a gear change that was so quick he had time to open his body and shoot right-footed inside the far post.
It was always going to be tough for Zaragoza to come back from 0-3 and besides a couple of shots from ex-Barça boys Rodri and Ruben Rochina they offered very little. Barça played out time, keeping possession and taking few risks. Eric Abidal was given another twelve minutes and La Romareda gave him deserved applause, while Sergi Roberto came on for the final ten and managed to demonstrate his talent with a couple of decent forward passes, the second of which set up Alexis for a final chance but keeper Roberto dived to his left to save.
The performance tonight was a long way from a classic one though Barça clearly deserved the three points. Perhaps with so many changes to the lineup it is normal that we should see a few more misdirected passes and a slower tempo. However, all in all the team did a good job and the work-rate and concentration was pretty good. Especially pleasing was the performance of youngsters Bartrá, Thiago and Tello. Bartrá will almost certainly be Piqué’s partner against Bayern and it seems the more he plays the better he gets. Thiago definitely needed a game like this to build his confidence after some recent below-par performances. He undoubtedly has the talent to become a truly great player if only he can play like this more consistently. As for Tello I admit I have often said I see him more as a player to bring on as a substitute. However, in the last two away games, at Celta and today, he has shown he is quite capable of causing defenders headaches throughout 90 minutes. Vilanova will have a difficult decision on whether to play Tello against Bayern. What would you guys do?
Zaragoza: Roberto; Sapunaru, Loovens, Alvaro, Parades; Movilla, Jose Mari (Apoño m45); Victor Rodriguez (Jorge Orti m45), Rodri, Montañes; Postiga.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Bartrá 7, Adriano 6 (Abidal m78, –), Montoya 6.5; Xavi 6.5 (Sergi Roberto m81), Song 6, Thiago 8; Alexis 6.5, Fabregas 6.5, Tello 8.5 (Villa m84, –).
Goals: m20 Thiago 0-1, m39 Tello 0-2, m53 Tello 0-3.
Yellow cards: m23 Movilla, m53 Apoño, m71 Alexis, m82 Alvaro, m83 Alves.