Barça’s final game of 2014 ended with a 5-0 victory over Cordoba at Camp Nou this afternoon. There never seemed any doubt about the result after Pedro Rodriguez opened the scoring after just 72 seconds. Luis Suarez scored his first goal in La Liga to make it 2-0 early in the second half before late goals from Gerard Piqué and Leo Messi with two gave the victory a sweeter taste after a less than inspiring performance from Luis Enrique’s men.
There were two big surprises in the Barça coach’s team selection. Montoya was chosen to fill in for the injured Alves at right-back, possibly as a renewed strategy to convince the player not to leave or possibly just to put him in the shop window with a sale in mind. And Pedro was rewarded for his first-half hat-trick against Huesca with a place in attack with Messi and Suarez which left Neymar, just back from injury, left on the bench.
Pedro responded by continuing his goal-run with a strike in the second minute. Montoya’s cross was cleared as far as Busquets who played a square ball to the right for Rakitic to curl in a left-foot cross over the defence for Pedro’s diagonal run from the left. The Canarian controlled with the outside of his right boot and turned to fire into the roof of the net from six yards.
Unfortunately the goal changed little in Cordoba’s defensive formation with just Ghilas as a lone forward. Barça failed to build on the advantage and chances were reduced to an Iniesta shot straight at Cordoba keeper Juan Carlos and a volley over from Suarez who struggled to make an impact in the traditional centre-forward role. Messi looked somewhat bored stuck out on the right wing until he started to move infield after the fifteenth minute.
Jordi Alba was Barça’s most in-form player with several dashes forward on the left and some good combinations with Iniesta and Pedro. Montoya on the other side put in a serious performance though his attacking forays had less effect and one promising attack ended with the full-back tripping over in the box. Camp Nou called for a penalty but referee Mateu Lahoz wasn’t fooled.
Cordoba did manage the odd first-half attack. Ghilas got past Mascherano before shooting narrowly wide while Cartabia had an effort from the left that also found the side-netting, but the best effort from the visitors came with a shot out-of-the-blue from Borja which saw Bravo making an awkward save by the post.
The problem was that Cordoba were playing to keep the score down and Barça didn’t really need to up the pace. Iniesta got into the six-yard box but his cross was cut out, Pedro fired narrowly wide and then Alba ran right into the area and tried to squeeze a shot in at the near post but Juan Carlos made the block. The first half ended with Rakitic’s cross from the left finding Piqué but after the Barça centre-back headed the ball down Juan Carlos made an excellent save to tip the bouncing ball over.
With the score at 1-0 there was always the chance that Cordoba might hold on and then try to grab a late equalizer. But in the 53rd minute Messi came deep before finding Iniesta who sent a fine ball through to Pedro who might have gone it alone but instead he squared slightly behind Suarez who did well to control and drag the ball forward before stabbing the ball past the advancing keeper.
Rakitic might have made it three with a blast from 25 yards that smacked off the far post but with Cordoba’s lack of ambition the game continued to disappoint. Xavi and Rafinha came on for Rakitic and Iniesta but with Pedro in such good form there was no reason to risk Neymar.
The game finally came to life in the last ten minutes with three late goals to warm Camp Nou’s lowest league crowd of the season. First Piqué headed in unmarked at the near post from Xavi’s free-kick. Then a corner was only cleared to Messi near the penalty spot and he sent a right-foot shot into the roof of the net. Finally in injury time Alba crossed from the left with the ball clipping off a defender’s head. Messi was at the far post and despite the deflection he showed lightning quick reactions to kill the ball with a stunning waist-high control with his left-foot before turning and whipping in yet another right-foot finish. For a player who is supposed to be one-footed Messi is demonstrating he can be lethal with any part of his anatomy. That’s now nine of his last twelve goals with his right foot! Messi finishes the year with 58 goals, just two fewer than Cristiano Ronaldo in his ‘best year’.
Barça end 2014 a point behind Madrid at the top of the table though our rivals now have a game in hand. We are always obliged to do our best in every competition though there is a feeling that perhaps the team is too inconsistent to win the league this season and that the cup competitions may offer more chance of success. However, Madrid’s winning run cannot go on forever and they must slip up in the league sooner or later, then they still have to come to Camp Nou. Barça have tough games in the new year against Real Sociedad and Atlético Madrid but if we can gain victories where Madrid lost then we may see a change in the momentum of the title race.
Barça: Bravo 6.5; Montoya 6, Piqué 7, Mascherano 6, Alba 8; Rakitic 7 (Xavi m65, 7), Busquets 7, Iniesta 7.5 (Rafinha m76, 6); Messi 7.5, Suarez 6, Pedro 7.5.
Cordoba: Juan Carlos; Campabadal, Iñigo Lopez (Pinillos m60), Pantic, Crespo; Ekeng, Luso (Rossi m72), Deivid; Fede Cartabia, Ghilas, Borja García (Lopez Silva m75).
Goals: m2 Pedro 1-0, m53 Suarez 2-0, m80 Piqué 3-0, m82 Messi 4-0, m91 Messi 5-0.
Yellow card: m68 Busquets