Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Mata will in the end be wearing the nº8 jersey for Manchester United, despite the fact that the British tabloids had assured the Spaniard would be wearing the famous nº7 that Beckham carried for years, and that has been free since the Englishman left.

"I think that the number 8 is a great number. I know that the 7 is an icon here. David Moyes and myself have decided that 8 is good for me. I hope it brings me luck", said Mata in his unveiling.

Mata, who was Chelsea's nº10, declared that he was arriving at Old Trafford ready to "win titles" and "hopes" that he is the player that the Red Devils need to breathe some new life into the squad and them move back up the table

"What I most like about this team is its character. I think that if any other club was in this position in the league, it would be very hard to fight back and make it to the top spot, but this club can. This is the idea I have of United, a club that always fights hard to win titles and always comes back when the going gets tough", he said.

He admitted that one of the reasons for signing with United was the upcoming World Cup: "It was very important because it's not easy to get into the Spain squad. I think this is a great opportunity to keep playing and keep on form".

For Mata, it was the perfect moment to move to United: "It was a fantastic opportunity for me to continue in England. This was the moment and (United) was the club", he assured.

Monday, 27 January 2014

PSG wants Messi
The relationship between PSG and Messi seems never-ending, According to 'L'Equipe', the French club remains intent on signing the Argentine star and has already taken steps to get its man next summer. The club admits that it will be tough to agree a deal, but it wants to take advantage of the player's doubts surrounding his new deal at Barça.

Despite the Paris club's claims denying any chance of it making a bid for the Argentine, L'Equipe insists that a deal is possible. It's almost mission impossible because they would also have to break the bank to sign him.

 Read more on -  Bartomeu on messi pay rise

Bartomeu will shortly renew Messi's contract. It's unlikely that the process will be too drawn out because the conditions have already been agreed upon between the player and the club. Messi's salary will increase significantly and will soon be similar to what Ronaldo earns at Real Madrid.

The Portuguese earns €18 million as a basic salary with another three million in variable bonuses. Messi's pay packet will be similar, which is a substantial improvement because he currently earns some €13 million that can increase to €16 million if he hits all his targets.

The new contract was already agreed on between the club's former president, Rosell, and the player's father. The only reason that it hasn't already been signed yet was that the club wanted to make sure Iniesta renewed his contract first.

With that out of the way, sealing Messi's new contract is now a priority and it will undoubtedly happen sooner rather than later. The club doesn't want it to be a drawn out affair, given that the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 against Manchester City is looming large on the horizon.

There is a great deal of interest in renewing contracts around Barcelona at the moment, now that the real figures involved in Neymar's transfer are coming to light. The Brazilian's contract fits the team's pay structure, but if you add all the contracts Barcelona signed with the company owned by the player's father then his earnings top everyone else's apart from Messi's - and they are in the same ballpark as the Argentine's, depending on how you interpret the figures.

Juan Mata with David Moyes .PHOTO - Manchester United
Spanish midfield player Juan Mata has sealed his agreement with Manchester United, who paid Chelsea £37.1 million for him, a record fee in the history of the reigning Premier League champions.

Mata has just signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with United and will wear the number 7 shirt. Juan Mata is 25 years old and has been called up for 32 Spain games... He has made 135 appearances for Chelsea, whom he joined from Valencia in 2011.

Juan Mata underwent the usual medical checks on Saturday in Manchester, arriving by helicopter from London first thing in the morning, where he was welcomed by Manchester United manager David Moyes at the club's training ground. He appeared very happy with this new phase of his career in English football, and he also thanked his former club.

"I am very happy to be joining Manchester United. I have had some very happy years at Chelsea, but the time has come to face a new challenge. United is the perfect place for me to be, and I am very pleased to have had the chance to come here. I am thrilled at becoming part of the history of this club", Mata said.

"Chelsea is a great club, and I have many friends there, but I couldn't turn down the opportunity to join Manchester United. I hope to be able to help the club, and that the team will be successful in the years to come", he went on.
Alexis Goal 

Barça stay top of the league for another week after a superb 3-0 win over Malaga at Camp Nou tonight. After a turbulent week at the club the atmosphere in the ground seemed totally normal and there were no noticeable protests against new president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Gerard Piqué, Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez scored the goals as the team responded with an excellent performance that could easily have earned a much bigger victory. There was also time for a brief appearance from Ibrahim Afellay for his first Barça game since May 2012.

Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid had both briefly led the table after winning their games earlier so the pressure was definitely on Barça to win. Tata Martino played his best available XI and the team began confidently with good swift passing moves. After just five minutes Busquets and Pedro combined and then Cesc Fabregas slipped a great pass through for Alexis who clipped his shot past Willy Caballero but the ball went wide after grazing the far post.
Barça 3-0 Malaga Valdés save Duda free kick 2014There was a reaction from Malaga after a doubtful foul was given against Busquets. Duda curled one of his specials but Valdés flew to his left and just got his hand to the shot. Barça continued to look the better team and after one twenty-pass build-up Alexis just over-ran the ball as he tried to burst into the area. The whole team was looking tuned in, but possibly the outstanding performer of the night was Jordi Alba who apart from threatening from the left wing, also showed some great defensive work including one speedy run back to prevent Perez a chance which was reminiscent of Eric Abidal’s best covering work.
Malaga put up a strong defensive performance from the start but gradually Barça began to find different ways through and Caballero was looking in good form. Xavi and Fabregas were moving the ball quickly and there were again more forward than square passes with Pedro on the left more often than not the target. In the 22nd minute Pedro found Messi inside the area but Caballero was out quickly forcing Messi to shoot quickly and wide.
Xavi then sent a glorious pass to Alves in space on the right, but after controlling, the Brazilian tried to chip Caballero but the keeper guessed his intentions and stretched a hand to intercept. Pedro tried his luck after cutting inside but Caballero made a comfortable stop, then Fabregas broke through on the right but after cutting the ball back to Pedro in a good position the Canarian slipped before he could shoot.
There was a brief interruption in Barça’s exhibition when Alves gave a poor pass and Piqué was required to take a booking for bringing down Pawlowski. But soon after, Alba had a chance after a cross from the right was missed by the Malaga defence but his shot was well saved by Caballero diving to his left. Barça turned up the pace another notch with Messi making a burst forward before finding Alexison the right, the Chilean dribbled his way to the by-line before crossing the ball for Pedro but the final header hit Flavio Ferreira who cleared. There were then two more attempts, the first a 20-yard shot wide from Pedro then angled lob onto the roof of the net from Alba after Messi’s pass from deep.
Barça 3-0 Malaga Piqué goal 2014The only problem was the lack of a goal and of course it’s impossible to say how things might have turned out had Malaga held on at 0-0 until half time. However, in the 39th minute Barça won a corner on the left. Xavi curled the ball to the far post where Piqué had time to chest the ball down but his shot was blocked by a defender and went out for a corner on the other side. Xavi took it again, Alexis made an excellent jump to flick the ball on and Piqué again had time to control and this time he swept his shot low past Caballero and Barça were in front.
Barça were encouraged by the goal and there was a spectacular move in the 43rd minute after Alba dribbled in from the left, the ball came back to Xavi who played it back again to Messi who, as the defence came out, chipped a fantastic pass over for Fabregas’s late run on the left but Caballero was again equal to Fabregas’s shot, blocking the ball at the near post.
Barça 3-0 Malaga Alba clearance 2014Barça continued to attack from the start of the second half and Pedro was perhaps unlucky not to win a penalty after a push from Sergio Sanchez. However, there was a reminder that the game was far from over in the 49th minute when Antunes sent in  a dangerous cross from the left which just evaded Pawlowski before Alba miraculously got in front of Juanmi to save what seemed a certain goal.
The scare spurred Barça on in the search for a second goal. Alexis shot from an angle on the right but Caballero dived low to save, then Fabregas played a one-two with Alexis but Caballero saved again at his near post. Then from a corner Piqué headed against the post and after the ensuing scramble Busquets’s shot was blocked.
Barça 3-0 Malaga Pedro goal 2014Barça’s insistence paid off in the 55th minute. Alves led a charge forward before finding Messi 30 yards out, the Argentinian played the ball through to Pedro who cut inside Angeleri before sticking his shot inside the far post. Almost straight after the goal, Valdés had to be alert to stop a shot out of the blue but that was the last threat to Barça’s victory. Five minutes later Messi cleverly turned away from Perez and his run then created space for the other forwards, Messi slipped the ball through to Pedro who unselfishly passed to the far post where Alexis had an easy tap-in to make it 3-0.
Pedro, who took a knock when scoring the second goal, was immediately replaced with Tello. Barça began to take the foot off the gas and Tello had little luck in his attempts to get past Angeleri. Messi and Xavi both sent free-kicks narrowly wide and then when Martino replaced the excellent Xavi with Sergi Roberto it was clear the work was done. In the final ten minutes Malaga finally won their only two corners of the match but Valdés was not troubled again. It was great to see Afellay come on for the last five minutes but the final chance of the game fell to Tello after Fabregas’s pass in injury time, but the winger sent his shot wide of the far post.
The victory leaves Barça on 54 points, ahead of Atlético on goal difference with Madrid a point behind on 53. Today’s performance was an excellent response to the off-the-field events this week and will go a long way to reaffirming Bartomeu in his position. Particularly pleasing tonight was the form of Jordi Alba who was excellent in defence while causing danger going forward. Xavi and Pedro also deserve credit, Xavi looked quicker tonight than we’ve seen him for some time while Pedro was a constant danger on the left. However, it was the overall team performance which was most encouraging which will send out a message to our rivals that there is no crisis at the club and the team is ready to compete with the best.

Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Piqué 7.5, Mascherano 7.5, Alba 8.5; Xavi 8 (Sergi Roberto m78), Busquets 6.5, Fabregas 7.5; Alexis 7.5 (Afellay m87, –), Messi 7.5, Pedro 8 (Tello m61, 6).
Malaga: Willy Caballero; Angeleri, Sergio Sanchez, Flavio Ferreira, Antunes; Juanmi, Pablo Perez (Morales m66), Tissone (Darder m81), Camacho, Duda; Santa Cruz (Pawlowski m26).
Goals: m40 Piqué 1-0, m55 Pedro 2-0, m61 Alexis 3-0
Yellow cards: m16 Pablo Perez, m30 Piqué, m31 Duda, m72 Ferreira.
Attendance: 56,355

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Bartoneu visits the First Team
Josep Maria Bartomeu faced the press for just over two hours this evening and took questions for the first time as Barça’s new president. Bartomeu confirmed he will complete the mandate won by Sandro Rosell’s team in the 2010 elections and that he has the intention of presenting the same team at the next elections in 2016 with the intention of serving another six-year term.
Bartomeu gave a very competent performance in answering questions on a number of subjects ranging from regrets over saying Eric Abidal’s contract would be renewed if he played again (a misunderstanding as he meant to say the contract which was in suspension would be reactivated)  or whether he intends to call Johan Cruyff (yes) to his arguments to revalidate his presidency given the members voted for Rosell to which he responded by mentioning the club statutes and that he formed part of Rosell’s candidacy.
Obviously most interest was centred on the controversial Neymar transfer and Bartomeu tried to stay one step ahead by bringing up the subject in his initial statement and then by bringing out Raul Sanllehi, who was the chief negotiator in the Neymar deal, to present the figures step-by-step. Bartomeu claimed that the club hadn’t previously been able to reveal all the details because of confidentiality clauses, but that Neymar’s father, having seen all the kerfuffle being caused this week, decided to call Barça and lift the clauses.
Sanllehi presented the figures with a screen which unfortunately didn’t help because it appeared to be hurriedly prepared. The numbers were presented, first the €40 million to Neymar’s parents’ company N&N, this payment was due to the clause in the 2011 precontract which Barça felt it necessary to pay to prevent another club (read Real Madrid here, though Bartomeu said many big clubs were interested) from paying the other clause of €40 million to Barça in order to poach the player.
Next was the €17.1 million paid to Santos as a fee for their part of Neymar’s rights. So far so good as we now reach the €57.1 million that Barça continue to insist was the total price for the transfer. Sanllehi then went on to talk of other payments and concepts, a €2 million bonus if Neymar becomes a Ballon d’Or finalist, €4 million for marketing, €2 million to Neymar’s father’s scouting firm, a 5% payment to an agent and two friendly games which he claimed were ‘free’. It all became a bit confusing. While the €7.9 million paid to Santos for the option on three young players may be seen to be separate from the Neymar deal and the €2.5 million dedicated to social works in Brazil’s favelas can be accepted simply because it is a good thing to do, it is difficult to accept that a friendly is free when it seems Santos will earn €4.5 million from each game, and the €2 million for the scouting company could easily be a cover for an extra payment. Bizarrely, Sanllehi finished by adding up his own figures, arriving at a figure of €86.2 million plus the €2 million Ballon d’Or bonus and then clarifying by saying the figure was meaningless as the total amount paid for the Neymar transfer was €57.1 million. It was all too confusing for some, one journalist complained that he had tried adding up the figures several time and that he kept arriving at €73.5 million.
Taking questions from the press Bartomeu admitted that he could also be included in the judge’s investigation into the case but he insisted he had no intention of resigning even if he were eventually charged as he has done nothing wrong. In this sense he remained strong as he did in his backing for his ‘friend’ Rosell. He reinforced the importance in Rosell’s decision of the death threats against his family, however, later when asked if he thought Rosell had been happy in the job, the new president let slip that he’d seen a happy Rosell ‘until a couple of days ago’ which only succeeded in demonstrating the dominating reason for Rosell’s resignation to be Judge Ruz’s decision on Wednesday to investigate the case. The insistence that Barça have done nothing wrong combined with Rosell’s sudden change of heart this week makes a difficult equation. Bartomeu put on a good show of being a man in control of the situation and his willingness to answer all questions directly was creditable. We will now have to see if Jordi Cases continues or not with the case. It seems very clear that Cases is acting as a Barcelonista with his best intentions for the well-being of the club. Many feel he may let the matter lie now as he had no intention of causing a crisis within the club. We should know one way or the other next week.

Friday, 24 January 2014

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over Barcelona this morning after yesterday’s surprise resignation from Sandro Rosell. The 49-year-old Rosell blamed threats against his family and pressure caused by the ‘false accusation’ over irregularities in the signing of Neymar Jr for his decision and named vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu as the new Barça president. There was also a surprise when it was announced that Bartomeu would complete the mandate until June 2016 as it had been previously expected that new elections would be called for this summer.
The fact that Rosell gave two unrelated reasons for his departure combined with his insistence of no improper behaviour leaves many doubts as to why he decided to go, whether he has made the right decision and whether he has done anything wrong. The death threats against Rosell and his family are despicable but the timing of the announcement clearly seems to indicate that Rosell’s decision has more to do with Judge Pablo Ruz’s acceptance on Wednesday that there is a case to investigate.
Jordi Cases
Jordi Cases
The problems started for Rosell when a small group led by club member Jordi Cases sent a fax to the club asking for an explanation as to know under what concept Barça had paid €40 million to the company of Neymar’s father N&N. Cases has stated that “if they had told me there was no concept but otherwise Neymar wouldn’t have come to Barça, it would have been enough for me”. However, Rosell chose to ignore the fax. Cases’s group, now calling itself Go Barça was then involved in the attempt to bring a vote of no-confidence against Rosell over the Qatar Airways sponsorship deal but Rosell reacted by raising the number of signatures needed from 5% to 15% of the membership.
The questions over the Neymar transfer remained unanswered so Cases began his own investigation which led to him presenting a case against Rosell last month. Rosell continued to deny any wrongdoing, saying that some things were confidential, but the pressure increased earlier this week when El Mundo published a story stating that the Neymar transfer had really cost €95 million and not €57 million as Barça have always claimed. Rosell continued to stand firm on Monday, publicly asking the Judge to call him to declare but refusing to answer when the press bombarded him with questions over the case. However, Judge Ruz’s decision on Wednesday to open the case seems to have led to Rosell’s about-turn.
It should be stated that nobody has accused Rosell of financially benefitting on a personal level. The charge against him would be lying over the details in the contract which may have served the club in some way. The problem seems to be these complicated deals involving players whose rights are shared between different clubs or agencies. It could well be that Rosell was trying to act in the best interest of Barça and that any corruption in the deal came from the other side of the deal. Either way, Rosell got himself into a mess with this transfer and he has handled the accusations against him badly. The threats against his family reveal a sorry side to how far some people will go in the power battle for the running of a football club, but bringing the matter out now is clearly just a cover for the real reasons for Rosell’s resignation, and some might go as far as to say he has been behaving like a guilty man.
So what now for the future? Rosell’s board remain with Bartomeu at the helm, and the decision not to call elections may well have been at attempt by the board to show strength while maintaining the front of no-wrongdoing. Unfortunately, the case seems unlikely to disappear. Cases has brought his case against Rosell and not against the club but he could easily present a new case now against Bartomeu who I understand also signed some of the contracts for the Neymar deal along with Rosell. Whether or not there could be a case against Bartomeu, the new unelected president is sure to come under pressure from opposing factions. This is where the instability could start to affect the team if there are protests against the board during home matches. The referendum called for April 6 to decide on the Camp Nou project is still to go ahead but there is a possibility that it could become a referendum on something quite different. Bartomeu should announce new presidential elections for the summer as the best way of putting to rest any in-fighting, at least until the season has finished.
While this whole business is worrying for the instability created, there is a certain beauty to the idea that one ordinary club member can bring down a president. I’m sure there are fans of many other clubs who would love to have this possibility. Time will tell how Rosell is remembered, it is true that the club has had continued success under his leadership, and  -if the figures are to be believed – the club’s debt has been reduced. However, he began his reign promising transparency and he has fallen for hiding information. The failure to take questions from the press after yesterday’s announcement was the final demonstration of the lack of transparency.
When Rosell replaced Laporta in 2010 it was his business savvy, which contrasted to Laporta’s political nous, that won him more than 60% of the vote. I always expected that his desire to take decisions on a sporting level would be his main problem: how ironic that it has been the business dealings in the end that have brought the businessman down.
Bartomeu will give another press conference where he will take questions at 5 pm this afternoon. It’s going to be interesting to hear what he has to say.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Marc Bartra has become the latest blaugrana to be called up by Vicente Del Bosque for the Spanish national team. Bartra’s good performances this season have been rewarded and the youngster must now see next summer’s World Cup in Brazil as a real possibility. Bartra has been brought into Del Bosque’s squad for the friendly games with Guinea and South Africa to replace Cesc Fabregas who has a slight knee injury.
Messi injured vs Betis 2013
Tests today have confirmed Leo Messi’s femoral biceps injury which will leave him out of action for six to eight weeks. The player had to be substituted in the first half of yesterday’s 1-4 victory at Betis. Messi will miss the games with Granada, Ajax, Athletic Club, Celtic, Villarreal, Getafe as well as the two Copa del Rey games with Cartegena. The league game with Elche on January 5 might be a possible return date but the intention is to have him fit again for the vital league clash at Atlético Madrid on January 12.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Barça comfortably reached the last 16 of the 2013/14 Champions League after a 3-1 win over AC Milan at Camp Nou tonight. Leo Messi ended his four-match goal drought, blasting Barça in front from the penalty spot after half an hour and ten minutes later Sergio Busquets headed Barça further in front from Xavi’s free kick. Milan cut the deficit just before half time when Gerard Piqué put through his own goal but Messi added his second of the night after a good combination with Cesc Fabregas ten minutes from the end to wrap things up for Barça.

The debate this week has centred on Barça’s style of play and tonight’s game will have done little to settle the argument. Tata Martino began the season using plenty of rotations but in recent games we have seen him leaning towards an once de gala. With Adriano and Piqué declared fit, Martino again put out his best eleven, except for the injured Jordi Alba, which meant both Pedro Rodriguez and Csec Fabregas again started on the bench. Barça gave a dominant performance and deserved the victory but there was still a lack of spark in the final third of the field.

Milan set out in a defensive 4-4-2. Balotelli was sacrificed to the bench which meant that Robinho and Kaká led the attack for the visitors while Andrea Poli was brought in to bolster the midfield. The Italians didn’t exactly sit back and wait and they pushed up when they could, however, they tried to leave little space between the midfield and defensive lines to make things difficult for Barça, and it was not unusual in the first half to see the entire Milan team back in their own half.

Despite the defensive approach from Milan, Barça started the game well. In the first few minutes Xavi sent a free kick wide, then after a quick one-two with Xavi, Messi burst towards the area and was only denied by Abate putting the ball out for a corner. Barça took the corner short with the ball coming inside to Busquets whose shot was deflected for another corner. Then soon after, in the 6th minute, Messi sent an excellent ball in for Neymar but the Brazilian’s control let him down.

There were good sensations from Barça. In the 11th minute Neymar tried a curler from the left but sent the ball well wide of the far post, then three minutes later Xavi stabbed a superb quick pass into Alexis but the ball got caught between the Chilean’s feet and Mexes had time to intervene. Alves tried his luck but missed the target from 25 yards, then Iniesta got a second attempt to thread a pass through to Adriano but the left back’s dangerous cross was missed by Messi, and Alexis couldn’t get enough of a touch to steer the ball in. From the resulting goal-kick Abbiati played it short to Mexes who passed back to the goalkeeper, giving Alexis the chance to charge at the keeper but despite getting in the way of Abbiati’s attempted clearance Alexis could only deflect the ball out for another goal kick.

Little by little Milan began to find their position and the chances started drying up. However, just when Barça seemed to be running out of ideas Iniesta sent a chip in towards Neymar who was impeded by Abate grabbing at his shoulder. The Brazilian spun to the ground and the Serbian referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot. Abbiati dived to his right as Messi powered the penalty straight down the middle and Barça were in front.

Milan didn’t manage a shot until the 35th minute when Poli pulled the ball back from the right but Montolivo sent his effort wide from 25 yards. However, as the Italians adopted a more attacking approach Barça began to find more chances to penetrate. Messi sent Alexis away with a delightful scoop pass but the Chilean’s cross clipped a defender and Abbiati was able to dive and gather. Then it was Iniesta who found the pass into the area for Messi who did well to resist Zapata’s challenge but as Abbiati came charging out of his goal Messi could only chip the ball across the goal and Mexes headed clear. Barça’s pressure paid off a minute later when Xavi sent in a free kick from the left and with the Milan defence looking for an offside Busquets was left free to stoop and head home Barça’s second.

Barça should have been home and dry at this point. Adriano might have made it 3-0 with a thirty yard drive but Abbiati palmed the ball over the bar. Then just before half-time Kaká for once escaped from Alves on the left, and just before Alves could recover Kaká sent in a low cross which clipped off Piqué’s right foot, leaving Valdés with no chance at his near post.

Milan were encouraged for the second half and Max Allegri replaced Robinho with Mario Balotelli. The controversial forward was soon in action, shaking off Mascherano’s challenge before going past Adriano to send in a low hard cross that Valdés did well to hold. Barça seemed divided between pushing for another goal and playing a more conservative approach. There was little threat on Abbiati’s goal as Barça were twice frustrated by the linesman. First, Messi was caught offside as Adriano’s shot hit him and then looped in for a disallowed goal. Then Neymar looked in line with the last defender as Xavi sent a fine pass through but the official raised his flag. Barça didn’t test Abbiati in the second half until the 59th minute, after a short corner Messi played the ball back for Iniesta who had to nudge the referee out of the way in order to shoot, Abbiati dived quickly to his left to save.

Milan continued to edge forward and Barça converted more and more to looking for the quick counter-attack. Mascherano needed to make a last-ditch tackle to thwart Balotelli, then a minute later the powerful Italian forward again got past Adriano and Mascherano to send a cross to the near post where Kaká, under pressure from Piqué, sent his shot narrowly wide.  Two minutes later, as the visitors had their best spell of the game, Mascherano had to turn Emanuelson’s dangerous cross out for a corner.

However, Barça began to find chances again at the other end with Adriano shooting over from 25 yards. Neymar then went on the most incredible run, cutting inside from the left and going past Abate, Poli, Zapata and Mexes before missing his chance for a goal-of-the-season candidate by blazing well wide from close to the penalty spot.

Birsa replaced Poli with just over fifteen minutes remaining as Allegri looked for an equalizer but as Milan came forward Barça looked increasingly dangerous on the counter. There was one marvellous combination between Messi and Neymar which ended with the Argentinian slipping the ball right for Alexis, but tonight the Chilean was not as his most fortunate and Abbiati denied him with an excellent save.

Martino delayed any substitutions until the 78th minute when he decided to rest Iniesta and give a Fabregas a short run-out. Soon after, Milan had their final chance for an equalizer but Alves managed to cut out Montolivo’s pass towards the unmarked Muntari. Then in the 83rd minute Fabregas showed his worth playing a brilliant return to Messi who avoided Mexes’s lunge and outsprinted De Jong before keeping his cool to lift the ball over the advancing Abbiati and seal the win for Barça.

Messi might have had a hat-trick after another Fabregas pass sent him into the area but Mexes made a fine saving tackle. There were late substitutions with Pedro and Song replacing Neymar and Xavi but there was little time for them to do much. Milan had already run out of steam after the third goal and there was no more threat on Valdés’s goal. The three points leave Barça on 10 pts from four games in Group H, Milan remain second on five pts, Ajax are now third on four pts after beating Celtic 1-0 which leaves the Scottish side bottom of the group on three pts. One more point from the last two games will now guarantee top spot for Barça.

Barça: Valdés 6.5; Alves 6.5, Piqué 7, Mascherano 6.5, Adriano 6.5; Xavi 7.5 (Song m88, –), Busquets 8, Iniesta 7 (Fabregas m78, 7.5); Alexis 6, Messi 7, Neymar 7 (Pedro m85, –).

Milan; Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Emanuelson; Poli (Birsa m74), Montolivo, De Jong, Muntari; Kaká (Matri m84); Robinho (Balotelli h/t).

Goals: m30 Messi (pen) 1-0, m39 Busquets 2-0, m45 Piqué (o.g.) 2-1, m83 Messi 3-1.

Yellow cards: m29 Abate, m32 Muntari, m56 De Jong, m62 Alexis.

Attendance: 80,517