Goals from Leo Messi and Adriano Correia earned Barça a 0-2 victory at Almeria which completed a club record start to a league season with seven wins out of seven. However, the victory had a price for Barça as Messi had to go off shortly after his goal with a thigh injury which makes him extremely doubtful for Tuesday’s Champions League clast at Celtic.
Tata Martino’s rotations again made sense with Cesc Fabregas returning to the team in place of Xavi while Neymar was also rested meaning a front three for Barça of Alexis on the right and Pedro on the left of Messi. Marc Bartrá continued in place of the injured Mascherano and gave a solid performance at the back alongside the more irregular Gerard Piqué.
Almeria made an initial push forward after the kick off and Victor Valdés had to punch clear from Suso’s cross in the first minute. However, Barça soon took control of the ball forcing the Andalucians to sit deeper which in turn allowed Barça to play a patient build-up game. In the fifth minute both Alexis and Alves had shots blocked before the ball came back to Iniesta who let fly left footed and Almeria keeper Esteban Suarez had to make a spectacular leap to palm the ball over.
There was a slower rhythm to Barça’s game which meant there weren’t too many goal opportunities created. The next chance fell to Piqué in the 13th minute after Messi’s free kick from the right but the Barça defender failed to make good contact with his header, sending the ball wide. Almeria caused Barça’s defence a few worries with the runs of Soriano, Susa and Vidal but Valdés had little more to do than collect crosses. The breakthrough came for Barça in the 21st minute. Iniesta sent a long ball forward to Alves who just kept the ball in by the corner flag, the Brazilian knocked the ball back up the line to Messi who dribbled infield past Vidal, played a one-two with Pedro to continue his run towards the penalty D from where he unleashed a screamer that flew past Esteban and in off the far post.
It wasn’t long after the goal that Messi first signalled to the bench that he’d felt something just above the right knee. He still had time to shoot over after Alexis’s cross from the right but in the 29th minute he was replaced by Xavi and Fabregas moved into attack. Almeria tried to push further forward and the home side had their best spell towards the end of the first half with Susa, on loan from Liverpool, causing most problems. In the 40th minute Bartrá made the first of only two mistakes in the game when he sent a short pass to Busquets who was robbed by Susa who then went past both Bartrá and Piqué before Bartrá recovered to win the ball and clear. Then just before half time Soriano played the ball in behind Piqué and Barça loaned player Rodri Rios hammered in a powerful shot that fortunately went straight at Valdés.
Barça restored control after the break but the rhythm remained a bit slow. The first danger didn’t arrive until the 54th minute when Pedro played in a decent-looking pass towards Alexis and Esteban had to run out of his area to make a vital tackle which would almost certainly have meant a red card if the keeper had got his timing wrong. However, a couple of minutes Barça found the second goal to finish Almeria’s hopes. Adriano began the move on the left, playing the ball inside to Xavi who skipped past Nelson’s challenge before finding Fabregas, who’d made a good run into space on the left, and when Fabregas crossed low Adriano was there, after continuing his run, to touch the ball home. Having grabbed the winner at Malaga a few weeks ago Adriano now has two league goals this season, both scored in Andalusia.
There was little reaction to the goal from Almeria, and Barça were happy to maintain possession, but then as the players tired there were a few more chances near the end. In the 77th minute Fabregas played an excellent ball for Adriano to cross, the ball was just out of reach of Pedro but Barça maintained the ball, Busquets tried a dribble through the middle and the attack came to an end with Adriano’s low shot wide. Three minutes later Alves’s shot hit an opponent and looped into the area, Bartrá was forward and he made a fine control when the ball came down before dribbling towards goal but then sent his shot wide of the near post.
Bartrá second mistake in an otherwise very promising performance came when he lost the ball to Azeez, the Almeria’s substitute found Rodri who crossed for Barbosa to put the ball in Barça’s net but the goal was correctly ruled out for a clear offside against Rodri. Almeria made a late push for a consolation goal and Valdés took a painful whack in the ribs going for a cross with Christian while Busquets joined Bartrá and Verza in the referee’s book for a late foul on Azeez. Barça held on without too much sweat and substitute Tello should have done better after going clean through near the end and then right at the end Esteban saved Alves’s effort by his post to keep the final score down to 0-2.
Not a great deal more to say about another solid performance. The most positive aspect was the 90 minutes from Bartrá, which will help to calm our worries about the defence, while there were good games too from Busquets, Xavi, Pedro and Adriano. I was also very impressed to see the level of commitment from Valdés when he ran out of his area to correct details about the defensive wall with Xavi in the 90th minute. The negative of course is the injury to Messi. The first reports are talking about him missing the next two matches but he’ll undergo tests tomorrow to confirm the time of recuperation. Celtic may feel revealed (though knowing how their fans appreciate good football there will be plenty who are disappointed) but Neymar will be back and refreshed after resting today to take the Argentinian’s place. Right, now to watch the Madrid derby game…who will be Barça’s closest challengers this season?
Almeria: Esteban; Nelson, Pellerano, Trujillo, Christian; Tebar, Verza (Barbosa m80); Aleix Vidal (Dubarbier m66), Fernando Soriano (Azeez m62), Suso; Rodri.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Bartrá 7.5, Piqué 6, Adriano 7.5; Fabregas 6.5, Busquets 7.5, Iniesta 6 (Dos Santos m91, –); Pedro 7, Messi 7 (Xavi m29, 7.5), Alexis 6 (Tello m81, 6).
Goals: m21 Messi 0-1, m56 Adriano 0-2.
Yellow cards: m26 Bartrá, m28 Verza, m89 Busquets