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

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Champions League football returns to Camp Nou tomorrow as Barça take on AC Milan in the battle for first place in Group H (Wednesday 8.45 pm). Tata Martino’s men go into the match in a strong position, knowing that a victory will mean qualification to the last 16 while almost guaranteeing top spot and even a draw would still leave Barça in pole position to win the group.

Barça are clear favourites to win the game and with Milan going through a crisis of form, few give the Italians much hope at Camp Nou. Since the two teams drew 1-1 at the San Siro two weeks ago, Max Allegri’s men have managed just one point in Serie A from a home draw with Lazio while they lost 3-2 at Parma and 0-2 at home to Fiorentina on Saturday. The seven-times champions of Europe have taken just 12 points from 11 games in the Italian league which leaves them a massive 19 points behind leaders Roma.

If things don’t improve soon Allegri may be out of a job by Christmas. The difficulty of his task tomorrow is demonstrated by the fact that Milan haven’t won in their last five Champions League games in Barcelona. The Italians last win at Camp Nou came in the group stage in 2000 when goals from Coco and Bierhoff earned a 0-2 victory for the visitors. Since then, in 2004 Eto’o and Ronaldinho scored in a 2-1 Barça win in the group stage, then in 2006 a goalless draw in the semi-final 2nd leg proved enough to send Barça through to the final against Arsenal. Milan managed another draw (2-2) in the group stage of the 2011/12 season but then when the teams met again in the quarter-finals two penalties from Leo Messi and a goal from Andres Iniesta gave Barça a 3-1 win and classification for the semis. The teams last met in March last season’s last 16 when Barça famously overturned a 2-0 deficit from the first leg with a 4-0 victory at Camp Nou.

Despite the statistics Milan should never be underestimated. They will be boosted by the probable return in goal of the veteran Christian Abbiati, while ageing stars such as Kaká and Robinho demonstrated in the first leg that when the stage is right they are still players to be reckoned with. Mario Balotelli is another who seems to perform better in big games and after returning from injury as a substitute in the first leg he will be fit to start at Camp Nou. Balotelli’s form has been disappointing this season and he has picked up more yellow cards (five) than goals (three); however, despite his inconsistency, Super Mario has demonstrated enough times in the past that he has the strength and ability to trouble any defence.

Barça have doubts over the fitness of Piqué and Adriano. The two defenders underwent specific programs yesterday rather than training with the group though the local press seems optimistic that both players will  be ready to play though they may both begin on the bench. The squad will train again this evening before Tata Martino decides on his list for the game.

With Jordi Alba still out injured, the problems of Piqué and Adriano only go to emphasise the apparent fragility of our defenders. Puyol and Mascherano have also both missed games through injury and it seems as if it is always our back line that suffers these problems which might indicate that we really should have signed another defender in the summer. However, a look at our recent record shows we have only conceded four goals in the last eleven games which demonstrates the effectiveness of Martino’s methods. It’s a slightly strange sensation as neither Piqué nor Mascherano, considered the first-choice centre-backs, is in his best moment, though acknowledgement must go to Victor Valdés who has begun the season in excellent form while Dani Alves deserves credit for improved performances defensively.

Johnathan dos Santos underwent surgery on the cruciate ligaments of his right knee today following his injury last week in training. The operation was successful but Dos Santos now faces a six-month recovery period which makes it unlikely he will play again this season. Let’s hope the team can put on a good show tomorrow and dedicate a victory to the youngster.

Possible teams:

Barça: Valdés; Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Montoya; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.

Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Constant; De Jong, Montolivo, Muntari; Robinho, Balotelli, Kaká.

Prediction: Barça 2 Milan 0

Date: Wednesday 6 November 2013. Kick off 8.45 pm local time.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Espanyol came close to frustrating Barça in the local derby at Camp Nou tonight, but with twenty minutes to go Alexis Sanchez scored the only goal of the game after an assist from Neymar Jr to take Barça to 34 points from 12 games and guarantee top spot in La Liga for another week.

Tata Martino picked the same team that started in Milan last week with the exception of Martin Montoya at left back in place of Adriano, which may signal he is settling on his idea of Barça’s best XI. Espanyol coach Javier Aguirre surprised, however, by leaving out Simao, Stuani, Pizzi and Mattioni while giving a chance to the out-of-favour Thievy and Gabriel Torje.

It was the Frenchman Thievy who had the first shot of the game which was blocked by Montoya in the second minute then soon after Torje shot wide from 25 yards. Barça’s first chance came after an early switch of wings from Neymar and Alexis. Neymar played the ball infield from the right to Messi and after a touch from Iniesta the ball came to Alexis on the left but Espanyol’s keeper Kiko Casilla dived quickly to his left to save the Chilean’s effort.

Most of the early danger came from Neymar who began the game well. He was unlucky to get called offside after Xavi’s through-ball though Casilla was quickly out of his area to clear just in case. However, as Barça took control of the ball Espanyol worked hard to close space with Thievy and Torje dropping back to support a narrow midfield line of five which shielded the back four and forced Barça to play the ball wide. The result was lots of crosses from Alves and a couple from Montoya from the left, but neither Barça full-back found much accuracy. Xavi’s corners were equally disappointing with the Espanyol defence winning all the headers.

Espanyol continued to frustrate and it wasn’t until the 28th minute that Barça created another chance. Iniesta played a cross-field pass for Alves’s forward run and the Brazilian headed the ball nicely for Alexis who volleyed his shot off target against Fuentes. Espanyol hit back on the counter, first Torje had time to shoot but Valdés got behind the ball well, then in the 35th minute Alves failed to cut out Thievy’s pass, allowing Victor Sanchez the chance to put the visitors ahead but Valdés did brilliantly to save with his feet.

After the scare Barça ended the first half well. Xavi fired narrowly over from 25 yards after Neymar worked some space. Then from a corner in the 43rd minute the ball was only cleared as far as Iniesta who smashed a shot through a forest of bodies but Casilla followed the ball well to punch the ball away, the ball came 35 yards out to Alves who, after a quick one-two with Busquets, cracked in a low shot that bounced out off Casilla’s right-hand post. It was a good end from Barça to a disappointing first-half though Espanyol will have been encouraged by arriving to the break with the score goalless.

Messi header 
Barça seemed to raise the pace slightly in the second half but Espanyol disciplined defence continued to cut off the final pass, get in the way of shots and thwart the dribbles from Messi and Iniesta. In the 54th minute a Barça cross finally found a Barça head with Alves delivering from the right and Messi charging in and jumping to meet the ball but Casilla sprang to his right to make an excellent save. Xavi was under more pressure from the defence when he headed wide from Alexis’s cross soon after. Then from another Alves cross the ball came long to Neymar who brought the ball back inside past Raul Rodriguez and Abraham before letting fly with a wicked curling shot that just failed to creep inside the far post.

Alexis goal celebration
It was beginning to look like Espanyol might hold out as they were limiting Barça’s number of chances, but the breakthrough finally came in the 68th minute. Busquets found Neymar in a bit of space on the left but as he entered the area Sidnei and Raul Rodriguez came across to block his way. The Brazilian managed to pass the ball through both Espanyol defenders’ legs and Alexis was sliding in at the far post to score yet another vital goal.

barça 1-0 espanyol neymar and casilla 2013Espanyol changed shape and tried to push forward in search of an equalizer but Barça began to exploit the spaces left. Alexis supplied a great ball through for Neymar and Casilla was fortunate not to be seen pulling the Brazilian’s arm as he would surely have been sent off for preventing a probable goal. There had to be one more chance for the visitors and it came in the 79th minute when Sergio Garcia got the wrong side of Montoya but then blazed his shot just over the bar. Besides that there were hopeful efforts from Espanyol’s substitutes Lanzarote with a header wide and Cordoba with a shot blocked by Piqué but Valdés was not troubled again. Barça’s subs Fabregas and Pedro combined for the best late chance for Barça but Casilla did well to stop Pedro’s shot with his foot.

Espanyol’s disciplined defensive lines made things difficult for Barça tonight but perhaps we should also take the heavy fixture list into account. Tonight’s game was the fifth in 14 days and the third in the last 7 but since the draws with Osasuna and Milan we now have three straight wins over Madrid, Celta and Espanyol. We have extended our consecutive home wins record in the league to 20 games, stretching back to October 2012 and the 2-2 draw with Madrid, and we are still unbeaten after 17 games with Tata in charge. All in all we can be pretty satisfied. What the heck! Even Alexis is coming good. That’s seven goals now in the league from the Chilean and after the injury-time winner over Sevilla, the brilliant chip against Madrid and tonight’s only goal, he’s getting a handy knack of popping up with vital strikes which we can only hope continues.

Barça: Valdes 7; Alves 6, Piqué 7, Mascherano 6.5, Montoya 6.5; Xavi 6.5, Busquets 6, Iniesta 6.5 (Fabregas m86, 6.5); Alexis 6.5 (Pedro m83, 6), Messi 6.5, Neymar 7.

Espanyol: Kiko Casilla; Raúl Rodriguez, Sidnei, Hector Moreno, Fuentes; David López, Abraham (Lanzarote m83), Víctor Sánchez; Thievy (Cordoba m62), Sergio García, Torje.

Goals: m68 Alexis 1-0.

Yellow cards: m45 Fuentes, m67 Victor Sanchez, m77 Mascherano, m90 Lanzarote.

Attendance: 79,977

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Fabregas celeb. vs Celtic
Tata Martino’s Barça go marching on after a 0-1 victory tonight at Celtic Park. There was no Leo Messi but the two players who were expected to take more responsibility proved to be decisive. Neymar Jr was now the team’s star and he played his part by drawing several fouls including one from Scott Brown after an hour which was punished with a straight red card from the French referee Stephane Lannoy. With Celtic down to ten men, Cesc Fabregas, who played Messi’s false nine role, headed in the only goal of the game from substitute Alexis’s cross with fifteen minutes remaining.

There were various changes to the teams that faced each other last season at Celtic Park when Celtic won 2-1. Piqué, Adriano, Busquets, Fabregas and Neymar came in for Mascherano, Alba, Song, Alexis and Messi from Barça’s starting XI last year. While for Celtic there was no Wilson, Wanyama, Ledley or Miku who were replaced by Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown and Stokes.

The contrasting styles of the two teams was evident right from the start, with Barça stringing together about thirty passes in the first 100 seconds before Celtic even touched the ball. The problem was that with Celtic concentrating on closing spaces anywhere near their goal there was little penetration from Barça’s forwards. The first moment of danger came in the fourth minute when Iniesta nutmegged Ambrose inside the area but Van Dijk was quickly across to cover. Then a minute later Celtic put together a good quick move down the left, the ball came to Stokes who sent a fine ball into the left of the area for Samaras and Valdés had to be out quick to close the angle and block.

The possible danger from Celtic’s breaks led to Barça playing a more conservative game. The ball was moved patiently from side to side, and often Barça moved backwards in an attempt to draw Celtic out, but every time Barça moved forward Celtic regrouped in a packed defence to shut off all routes to goal. Barça didn’t manage a shot until the 17th minute when Fabregas met Alves’s low cross with a side-foot effort wide then soon after Neymar sent a weak shot rolling wide. Then in the 19th minute Iniesta made space with a nice shimmy to throw Brown off balance, before firing just wide from 25 yards.

There had been little from Neymar so far as Celtic right-back Lustig looked solid early on. In the 23rd minute the Brazilian made his first exciting run but his final pass, which was looking for Alves, was well cut out by Commons. A minute later Neymar was warned by the referee for diving and it was beginning to look like a frustrating evening for the Barça star. But then soon after he sent in a fine ball for Adriano to chase but the full-back fired his shot into the side-netting.


Neither goalkeeper was having much work to do. Celtic’s populated defence continued to form a solid barrier in front of Forster while Bartrá and Piqué dealt well with any ball played out towards Samaras. Celtic, in fact, were struggling to string three passes together in a scrappy period while Barça’s passes towards the danger area were also off-target and missing a finisher. There wasn’t a decent combination until the 40th minute after Pedro played a nutmeg in midfield and then opened play out for Alves to cross from the right, Neymar met the ball at the near post but flicked his shot just wide. Then in the 44th minute Neymar beat Lustig for the first time on the left, and the Swedish full back received the game’s first yellow card for a crude foul. Xavi swung in the free kick and Forster made a hash of his jump for the ball and was lucky to deflect the ball on with his shoulder and out for a corner.

Brown Red card ~ Neymar

The improvement towards the end of the first half continued after the break. Neymar became more and more involved and his direct runs were causing Celtic problems. In the 55th minute he tried a run through the middle, the ball bounced kindly to Xavi but the veteran midfielder’s venemous shot was blocked by Van Dijk. Then in the 58th minute Neymar set off on a gallop down the left, Brown was close on his heels but wasn’t fast enough to catch him, with the Brazilian about 35 yards from goal Brown clinically took Neymar from behind. The Celtic fans will no doubt have been expecting a yellow card – I certainly was – and may feel hard done by that the ref went straight for the red. But the truth is the Celtic midfielder really had absolutely no chance of playing the ball and as a tackle from behind the ref’s decision could be justified.

Barça could now smell the three points. The build-ups continued to be patient but as Celtic’s ten men tired the Scots became more and more stretched by Barça’s ball movement. Bartrá got forward in the 65th minute to hit a powerful low 30-yarder that Forster dived to his left to save, then three minutes later the young central defender was forward again to assist Fabregas who drove a cross-shot straight at the Celtic keeper. Barça continued to push forward with Neymar making a short dribble inside the area before playing a wall pass off Xavi but the Brazilian blazed his shot wide.

Victor Valdes awesome save 

Then against the run of play Celtic had a clear chance to take the lead. Barça had done well dealing with any corners or free kicks crossed into the area. But in the 73rd minute Mulgrew sent a long throw from the left into the danger zone, Barça only cleared the ball as far as Celtic substitute James Forrest who smashed a shot towards goal but Valdés flew magnificently to his right to turn the ball over the bar.

The importance of Valdés’s save was magnified when Barça took the lead two minutes later. A Celtic attack broke down and Busquets played the ball forward to Neymar in a central position 35 yards from goal. The Brazilian held the ball up well before releasing Alexis who had just come on in place of Pedro, the Chilean crossed from the right and Fabregas met the ball unmarked at the far post with a header across Forster and in.

Fabregas Goalll

With a man less Celtic found no response. Barça should probably have added to Fabregas’s goal but Forster made one fantastic double save to deny Neymar and Alexis. Then in injury time a splendid run and pass from Alexis sent Neymar clean through but Forster made another splendid save low to his left.

There was a lot about Barça’s game tonight that wasn’t pretty and you could tell Celtic Park was none too impressed by some of Neymar and Alves’s theatrics. However, last season with Messi we lost whereas tonight without him we take all three points. One has to be impressed by the seriousness we showed in defence with encouraging performances by both Bartrá and Piqué, while Busquets also provided good cover. Martino has a good sense of when we can put on a show and when we need to take a more practical approach. The results so far could hardly be better with the Supercopa in the trophy cabinet and a 100% win record in both La Liga and the Champions League. We have also kept a clean sheet in an impressive seven out of eleven games this season. Valdés’s form here has been crucial of course. The first stop tonight from Samaras was good and then his save from Forrest was arguably his best and most important of the season so far. Besides Valdés, Neymar turned out to be the game’s decisive player after starting slowly, I just wonder whether the whack on the head he took in a clash with Izaguirre sparked him into action as his game seemed to come to life afterwards.

Following Milan’s draw at Ajax, Barça now lead Group H with six points with Milan in second place on four, Ajax third with a point and Celtic without a point at the bottom.

Celtic: Forster; Lustig (Forrest m70), Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Matthews, Mulgrew, Commons (Pukki m86); Stokes (Kayal m70); Samaras.

Barça: Valdés 7.5; Alves 7, Bartrá 7.5, Piqué 7.5, Adriano 7; Xavi 6, Busquets 7.5, Iniesta 6.5 (Song m89, –); Pedro 6 (Alexis m74, 7), Fabregas 7 (Tello m78, 6.5), Neymar 8.

Goal: m75 Fabregas 0-1.

Yellow cards: m44 Lustig, m55 Fabregas, m75 Busquets, m77 Samaras, m85 Izaguirre, m90 Alexis

Red card: Brown m58

Attendance: 60,832

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Champions League returns tomorrow (Tuesday) with Barça taking on Scottish champions Celtic in the always tremendous atmosphere of Celtic Park. With Leo Messi joining Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol on the injured list Tata Martino has called up centre-back Sergi Gomez and midfielder-turned-right-back Patric Gabarrón from Barça B to make up the numbers in a 21-man squad for the game.

Pedro Rodriguez took a knock in Saturday’s 0-2 win at Almeria but he has been included in the list and should be fine to play if needed. With Messi missing, Martino could opt for either Neymar or Alexis to play a more central attacking role though it seems more likely he will again choose Cesc Fabregas in the false nine role. This means Neymar will almost certainly return on the left wing, leaving Alexis and Pedro to fight for the other forward spot. We should see our classic trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta in midfield, while with limited options in defence we will probably repeat the back four of Alves, Piqué, Marc Bartrá and Adriano. Bartrá will no doubt be hoping to build on his good performance in Almeria

celtic 2-1 barça wanyama goalBarça and Celtic are no strangers in European competition, having faced each other on eight occasions in the last ten years. Anyone thinking it will be easy for Barça tomorrow should take a look at these previous games. In the spring of 2004 a 1-0 Celtic win in Glasgow followed by a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou saw Barça eliminated from the Uefa Cup. The following autumn Barça recorded a fine 1-3 win at Celtic Park in the Champions League group stage but the Scots managed a 1-1 draw in the return in Barcelona. The teams met again in the last 16 of the 2007/08 Champions League with Barça winning 2-3 in Scotland in the first leg and 1-0 in the return. Then last season the two sides were drawn together in Champions League Group G, an injury-time goal from Jordi Alba gave Barça a 2-1 victory in the game at Camp Nou but Celtic got revenge winning 2-1 in Scotland incidentally with Bartrá appearing in both games. Both sides classified for the next round where Celtic were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Juventus while Barça of course went on to lose to Bayern Munich in the semi-finals.

There have been few changes at Celtic since last season’s meetings. Neil Lennon is still the coach and the core of the team is the same. However, midfielder Victor Wanyama, who was very impressive last year, has been sold for £12.5 million to Southampton while striker Gary Hooper moved to Norwich for £5 million. The most important players signed are defender Virgil Van Dijk (Groningen £2.6 million), winger Derk Boerrigter (£3 million Ajax) and Finnish striker Teemu Pukki (£3 million Schalke), though of these probably only Van Dijk will start tomorrow.

With the demise of bitter enemy Glasgow Rangers, Celtic easily won last season’s Scottish League by a margin of 16 points over second placed Motherwell. This season the Bhoys have started strongly with six wins and a draw from seven games. Last Saturday they won 2-5 at Kilmarnock with a hat-trick from Greek striker Georgios Samaras who you may remember opened the scoring for Celtic last season at Camp Nou. Inverness Caledonian Thistle are top of the league on goal difference but Celtic have a game in hand.

celtic barça bartra 2012It’s always a pleasure to face Celtic, the two contrasting styles of the teams guarantee an interesting battle if not always the most open game, while the vociferous Celtic fans always provide a magnificent atmosphere. For Barça a draw might seem a good result in as far as classifying for the next round is concerned. However, given the importance of finishing top of the group, we really should be looking for all three points. In the first round of Group H matches two late goals gave AC Milan a 2-0 win over Celtic while Barça were beating Ajax 4-0.

For a recent insight into the Celtic-Rangers rivalry here’s an excellent documentary which is well worth a watch.

Barça’s 21-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Patric, Piqué, Bartrá, Sergi Gomez, Adriano, Song, Busquets, Dos Santos, Xavi, Iniesta, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Pedro, Alexis, Neymar, Tello.

Possible starting XIs:

Celtic: Forster; Lustig, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Matthews, Mulgrew, Commons; Stokes, Samaras.

Barça: Valdés; Alves, Bartrá, Piqué, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Fabregas, Neymar.

Prediction: Celtic 1 Barça 2

Date: Tuesday 1 October 2013. Kick off: 7.45 pm in the UK, 8.45 pm in Spain.

Sunday, 29 September 2013



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Friday, 20 September 2013

A day after it was learnt that Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi did not ask for a pay rise akin to the deal Cristiano Ronaldo recently signed at Real Madrid, the Argentine ace was at his sensational best nevertheless.

Lionel Messi celebrates one of his goals against Ajax on Wednesday. Pic/AFP
On Tuesday, when Barcelona boss Sandro Rosell was asked if Ronaldo’s contract renewal (he signed a five-year deal with Real worth 90 million euros) making him the Spanish League’s best-paid player, would affect Messi’s contract, he said: “Does Ronaldo’s renewal affect Messi’s contract? Messi hasn’t said anything to us. He’s happy here and he’s at the best club in the world.”

A day later, Messi simply went about his job in the best possible way he knows – by scoring goals! Messi moved into second place on the all-time list of Champions League goalscorers with his 27th career hat-trick as Barcelona beat Ajax 4-0 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.

The four-time World Player of the Year now has 62 Champions League goals to his name as Barca cruised to victory in the first ever competitive meeting between the two sides. Messi opened the scoring on 22 minutes with a sensational free-kick and made the game safe 10 minutes after half-time with a typically cool left-footed finish.

Gerard Pique added a third when he headed Neymar’s cross past the stranded Kenneth Vermeer before Messi rounded off the scoring 15 minutes from time. And the visitors were even denied a consolation when Valdes saved Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s penalty 13 minutes from time after Javier Mascherano had upended Thurani Serero.

“In the first-half we found it a bit difficult because they played well, but in the second we moved the ball much better and controlled the game,” Messi told Canal Plus. “In general I think we played a very good game. The more variety we have the better.

There are games where we need to manage the ball, control the game, and others which are more difficult where we will need to do a bit more.” Messi took time to lend his support to coach Gerardo Martino, who flew back to Argentina yesterday to attend his father’s funeral. “It was a special game. It’s is a shame what has happened and he is suffering, but we are all with him in this moment.”

Champions League top scorers

Raul Gonzalez
Lionel Messi
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Cristiano Ronaldo
Thierry Henry
rayo 0-5 barça xavi

League leaders Barça travel to Madrid tomorrow to take on Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas in the fifth round of La Liga 2013/14 (Saturday 8 pm). Tata Martino is currently in Argentina for his father’s funeral but he is expected to return in time to take charge of the team from the bench.

rayo 0-5 barcelona messi goalLeo Messi looks likely to make his 250th appearance in La Liga in the game. The Argentinian has scored a remarkable 221 goals in the previous 249 matches, and in the last two seasons he has managed well over a goal a game – 50 goals in 37 games (1.35 goals a game) in 2011/12, and 46 in 32 games (1.44 goals a game) last season. The rate is even better this season with six goals in three league appearances so far, and that’s not to mention the hat-trick he scored against Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday which took his career total of hat-tricks for Barça to 24.
This is Rayo’s third season in the top flight since their promotion in 2011. In the last four matches played between the clubs over the past two seasons the balance is clearly in favour of Barça with four straight victories and a goal difference in favour of 19-1. Twelve of those nineteen goals have been scored in Barça’s last two visits to Vallecas, a 0-7 thrashing in April 2012 and then a 0-5 win last October.
Rayo have made numerous changes since last season. Players such as Javi Fuego, Jordi Amat, Raúl Tamudo, Leo Baptistão and Chori Dominguez have all moved on and due to a very limited budget all their incoming players arrived either on a free transfer or on loan. The most likely of their new players to feature tomorrow are Alberto Bueno, Johnathan Viera, Seba Fernandez and Argentinian striker Joaquin Larrivey, Our opponents began this season with a promising 3-0 victory over Elche but since then they have suffered three straight defeats to Atlético, Levante and Malaga while conceding 12 goals in the process. Coach Paco Jemez will have to make do tomorrow without the suspended Lass Bangoura, while Nery Castillo, Jose Carlos and ex-big-hope-of-La Masia Iago Falque are all out injured.
rayo 0-5 barça cesc fabregasGiven the heavy fixture load at the moment there may be some surprises to the Barça starting XI. Almost any of the players who didn’t start against Ajax could get a chance but with Martino unable to take training for the last couple of days (his number two Jorge Pautasso has been in charge of sessions), it seems unlikely there will be too many changes though both Xavi and Pedro will probably be back in the line-up. Gerard Piqué picked up a slight groin strain against Ajax but he looks likely to play, but if Piqué is unavailable then Marc Bartrá will probably be chosen as his substitute as Carles Puyol seems unlikely to reappear for another game or two. Barça will be hoping to continue the 100% start to the league campaign with another comfortable win tomorrow though it is probably a bit much to expect a result as big as we have seen in the last two visits to Vallecas.
Possible starting lineups:
Rayo: Ruben; Tito, Galvez, Arbilla, Nacho Martinez; Saul, Trashorras; Seba Fernandez, Bueno, Viera; Larrivey.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Rayo 1 Barça 4
Date: Saturday 21 September 2013. Kick off 8 pm local time.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Lionel Messi clears on Tax case
The Messis, who were facing the possibility of jail time, deposited the "corrective payment" last month, said a court in Gava, near Barcelona, according to Reuters.
The Messis, who are Argentine, are still due to appear at a hearing on Sept. 17, although their lawyer had asked for it to be postponed as he had another commitment that day, the court statement added. Both men, who denied wrongdoing, allegedly hid more than $5.25 million by filing incomplete returns for the years 2006 to 2009.
The sale of Messi's image rights had been hidden using a complex web of shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, according to the prosecutor's office for tax crimes in Catalonia said.
"I never take care of that stuff myself and neither does my father," Messi, a four-time world player of the year, said in July. "We have our lawyers and our wealth managers to take care of that and we trust them and they will sort this out. The truth is that I don't have a clue about all this and that is why we have people taking care of it."
Messi has been resident in Barcelona since 2000 and gained Spanish citizenship in 2005.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The midfielder will find a team playing his brand of football, two international team-mates to keep him company and a manager who can explain his ideas in German
As you would expect, Mesut Ozil's £42.5m move to Arsenal has reverberated through his home country – all the way down to the nether regions of Regionalliga West, the fourth division. Rot-Weiss Essen, a traditional powerhouse who have fallen on hard times, were jubilant when they heard the news on Monday; they are expecting a handsome windfall of €800,000 (£675,000) as compensation for developing him over a decade ago. Schalke, where the son of Turkish immigrants played from 2005-08, are due a similar figure.The real benefit to German football of this record transfer – the 24-year-old is now its most expensive footballer – will go far beyond financial considerations, however. Ozil's "escape from circus Real Madrid" (Süddeutsche Zeitung) has been widely seen as a smart decision, both for him and, by extension, the national team. Germany's manager, Joachim Löw, certainly will not have to fret about his sensitive playmaker being frozen out at the Bernabéu in a World Cup season any more.Ozil will instead find a team playing his kind of football, two German team-mates to keep him company and a manager who can explain his ideas in German. Most importantly, Ozil will go from feeling like the fifth wheel at Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid to being the star attraction in north London, and Arsène Wenger's personal favourite. The Frenchman tried to sign him first seven years ago, before he moved to Werder Bremen."I'm a player who needs the confidence [of the manager]," Ozil explained to, the official channel of the national team, on Tuesday. "At the weekend, I was certain that I would stay at Real Madrid, but afterwards I realised that I did not have the faith from the coach or the bosses. I am really looking forward to [joining Arsenal] because I have the faith of the coach. I had spoken to him at length on the telephone, he explained his plans and that he has faith in me – that is what I need as a player."Germany's sporting director, Oliver Bierhoff, joked about a "hectic" start to the international week. The former striker had facilitated the deal just as he had done two years ago, when Per Mertesacker was signed on deadline day by the Gunners. You could just sense the slightest sense of exasperation in the 45-year-old's voice – why do they always leave it so late? – but it was in his own interest to see it get done. Ensuring Ozil got out of the Madrid pressure cooker had become a thing of national importance. He had no longer been feeling "the trust inside the club", Bierhoff explained: "Ancelotti had perhaps different ideas."  
'I am really looking forward to joining Arsenal because I have the faith of the coach,' says Mesut Ozil. Photograph: Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Spanish correspondent Paul Ingendaay took a more negative line on Ozil's departure to the Emirates. The outrageously gifted playmaker did not impose himself in any of Madrid's big matches in the past three seasons, he recalled, and wryly noted that his at times breathtakingly elegant performances were "the stuff of dreams, but not of trophies".The move to Arsenal – "a club that's always involved at the top but never tends to win anything" – amounted to him failing in the Spanish capital and was not simply a consequence of new arrivals Gareth Bale and Isco stealing his limelight. "The air at Real had been thin for him before," Ingendaay insisted.There is some truth to that. Serious seeds of doubt about his future at Madrid were first sown in a meeting with club management in mid-May.Mustapha Ozil, the player's father and agent, expected the president, Florentino Pérez, to offer a contract extension beyond 2016 and improved wages that reflected his popularity with the supporters, but the club coolly professed contentment with the existing status quo. Feelers were put out to a number of Premier League sides over the course of the summer.A combination of Ozil's wage demands – he was already on €5m a year after tax at Madrid, roughly the equivalent of £150,000 per week before tax in the UK – as well as Madrid's preoccupation with incoming players did not lead to any concrete negotiations before the beginning of the weekend, however. Then Arsenal called.As late as last Wednesday, when Ozil was professing his love for Real to German journalists at a Madrid event organised by his sponsors Adidas, he firmly expected to stay at the club. Madrid soon made their plans – or lack of them – for him clear, though. "Real Madrid mobbed him towards Arsenal," was Bild's take on the affair."I wasn't surprised, I had known about it for two or three days," confirmed his former Los Blancos team-mate Sami Khedira, possibly the only German who has seemed upset about Ozil's London move. "I regret the decision, it could weaken [Madrid], from a sporting point of view," said the 26-year-old in Munich.Bierhoff carefully suggested that Germany's No10 will "have to adapt to new conditions" in England after leaving a league that seemed more tailored to his lightness of touch. "In Spain, the style suited him, naturally," Bierhoff admitted, "but he will mature [in England]."A similar hope for Germany's most beautiful but also frail flower was expressed in Süddeutsche. "Wenger is someone who understands artists," mused the broadsheet, "[at Arsenal] somebody like him could find ideal conditions to blossom."

Four teams still have 100% records in La Liga following another pulsating round of fixtures on week three in Spain's first division.

It seems our defensive problems are over! With the transfer window now closed Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta gave a press conference this lunchtime alongside Vice-President Josep Maria Bartomeu to explain Barça’s activity, or rather lack of it, in this summer’s market. Zubizarreta stated that the club had tried everything to try and sign Thiago Silva both last summer and this, but the Brazilian had preferred PSG. Zubi then defended the decision not to incorporate another central defender with the usual excuse of the difficulties of finding the right player to fit the Barça system. He went on to talk about Carles Puyol, saying “there were 24 hours to go before the transfer window closed and yesterday Puyol went out to train. This is our signing.”
Now, nobody needs an introduction to Carles Puyol. As captain of our best ever team he has won every cup possible at club and international level. A blaugrana living legend. However, given his recent bad luck with injuries it is difficult to expect the 35-year-old Puyol to play too often or to offer the same level of performance as in previous seasons. Zubizarreta tried to justify the decision by stating that last season we achieved the best first half to a season ever with the same group of defenders even though we suffered injuries. However, Zubi failed to remember that last season we conceded 70 goals in 60 matches in all competitions, a poor record when compared to the previous four seasons under Pep Guardiola (2008/09: 55 goals conceded in 62 matches; 09/10: 41 goals in 59 matches; 10/11: 36 goals in 60 matches; 11/12: 48 goals in 64 matches).
The current situation only goes to magnify the foolishness of the decision not to offer Eric Abidal a new contract. With every day that passes Abidal proves his fitness, playing regularly for Monaco and being called up again for France. You might expect that when the decision was taken to let Abidal go, the club would have had somebody ready to sign as his replacement. But no, the club was thinking only of Thiago Silva who had already turned down the chance to join Barça in 2012. As Zubizarreta said today when talking about the Brazilian defender “not every player gets up in the morning thinking how wonderful it would be to play for Barça”. If Silva chose PSG over Barça in 2012 I think you can be pretty sure it is because they offered him more money. The club should have realised that the only way to get the player was by matching PSG’s wages. If this didn’t agree with Barça’s wage structure, then fine, don’t sign the player, but at least have an alternative ready before letting a player of Abidal’s qualities go.
Zubizarreta also spoke of the confidence the club has in Marc Bartrá. Now, Bartrá is still a promising player and he may still prove to be the answer to our defensive problems. However, last season when the first moment came to give him a chance, Tito Vilanova preferred to play Alex Song and then Adriano in central defence. Later in the season when Bartrá was thrown in at the deep end against Bayern he didn’t look quite ready for the job. The player needs playing time in some of our easier matches to continue to develop. So far this season he is the only fit outfield player who has still not played a minute, which also means Piqué and Mascherano are the only players who haven’t had a minute’s rest. At the moment it seems as though Bartrá could still face problems if suddenly needed against tough opposition.
On paper, Barça have started the season well. The first trophy of the season is in the bag and we are top of La Liga with the maximum nine points. However, there is a feeling that having failed to sign anybody apart from Neymar this summer, we may have to rely more than ever for good fortune regarding injuries if we are to challenge for the top trophies next May.
AC Milan have concluded talks with Real Madrid that will pave the way for Brazilian playmaker Kaka's return to the San Siro, reports claimed late on Sunday.
Milan CEO Adriano Galliani flew in a private jet to Madrid on Sunday morning and Sky Sport Italia later claimed the Spanish giants have agreed a two-year deal with the Rossoneri.
No firm details were given in the report, although speculation suggests Real could release Kaka for free or allow him to go on a two-year loan.
Kaka last week made a public plea to be able to leave the Spanish giants as he looks towards cementing a place in the Brazilian national side ahead of next year's World Cup.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri on Friday praised the Brazilian's attributes and said he had "faith" a deal could be struck for Kaka.
"Kaka would strengthen us. He's versatile, and his technical attributes would be a big plus to the team," said Allegri.
"We still have two and a half days till the end of the transfer window and the club is working on it. I have faith."
The deal is now confirmed and Kaka is now set on with free transfer to Milan.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Real Madrid have broken the world transfer record to sign Tottenham forward Gareth Bale.
The Wales star has agreed a £300,000 per week, six-year deal after sealing an £85.3m (100m euros) move which eclipses the £80m Real paid Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

"It's very important for Gareth to throw his heart and soul into this move.
"He's got it all and ability-wise he is phenomenal. The only question is whether he's got the mental strength to cope with such a big transfer and the spotlight that will be immense in Spain.
"But it's a fabulous opportunity for him and the important thing is he really needs to grasp it with both hands."
"I have had six very happy years at Tottenham but it's the right time to say goodbye," said 24-year-old Bale.
"We've had some special times together and I've loved every minute of it."
Bale will have a medical and then be presented to the Real Madrid fans at the Bernabeu at 12:00 BST on Monday before speaking at a media conference.
He added: "I am not sure there is ever a good time to leave a club where I felt settled and was playing the best football of my career to date.
"I know many players talk of their desire to join the club of their boyhood dreams, but I can honestly say, this is my dream come true.
"Tottenham will always be in my heart and I'm sure this season will be a successful one for them.
"I am now looking forward to the next exciting chapter in my life, playing football for Real Madrid."
Bale joined Spurs as a left-back for £10m from Southampton in 2007 and scored 26 goals last season as he was named both the Professional Footballers' Association's and Football Writers' player of the year.

Bale's season-by-season Premier League stats

  • 2012-13: Played 33, goals 21, assists four
  • 2011-12: Played 36, goals nine, assists 10
  • 2010-11: Played 30, goals seven, assists one
  • 2009-10: Played 23, goals three, assists five
  • 2008-09: Played 16, goals 0, assists 0
  • 2007-08: Played eight, goals two, assists 0
His representatives told Spurs at the end of July that he wanted to speak to the Spanish giants.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti's claim at the start of August that they were "in talks to find a solution" to the transfer angered Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, but the clubs have now reached a settlement.
After his side's 1-0 loss to Arsenal, Villas-Boas said: "Bale is a wonderful player. He is going to join Real Madrid so we wish him all the best.
"He left us with some great memories from last season."
Bale, who becomes Real Madrid's fifth signing of the summer, paid tribute to both Southampton and Tottenham for developing his career.
He said: "I am well aware I would not be at the level I am today were it not for firstly Southampton and then Spurs standing by me during some of the tougher times and affording me the environment and support they have.
"I would like to thank everyone at the club; the chairman, board, staff, coaches and players, and, most of all, the fantastic fans who I hope will understand this amazing career opportunity."
Spurs have been busy in this transfer window, signing seven players for a total outlay approaching £105m.

Tottenham's summer signings

  • Argentina forward Erik Lamela (Roma, £25.7m, pictured)
  • Brazil midfielder Paulinho (Corinthians, £17m)
  • Spain striker Roberto Soldado (Valencia, £26m)
  • Belgium winger Nacer Chadli (FC Twente, £7m)
  • France defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue (Toulouse, £9m)
  • Romania centre-back Vlad Chiriches (Steaua Bucharest, £8.5m)
  • Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen (Ajax, £11.5m)
Brazil midfielder Paulinho has arrived from Corinthians for around £17m; forward Roberto Soldado has signed from Valencia for £26m, and Roma playmaker Erik Lamela has joined for a reported £25.7m.
Their other summer arrivals are Nacer Chadli from FC Twente for £7m, Etienne Capoue for £9m from Toulouse, Romania centre-back Vlad Chiriches from Steaua Bucharest for £8.5m, and Ajax's 21-year-old Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen for £11.5m.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy admitted he did not expect to have to plan for the season without Bale.
"Gareth was a player we had absolutely no intention of selling as we look to build for the future," said Levy.
"He is a player whose career we have fostered and developed and he was only a year into his new four-year contract.
"Such has been the attention from Real Madrid, and so great is Gareth's desire to join them, we have taken the view that the player will not be sufficiently committed to our campaign in the current season.
"We have, therefore, with great reluctance, agreed to this sale and do so in the knowledge that we have an exceptionally strong squad to which we have added no fewer than seven top internationals.
"More importantly, we have an immense team spirit and a dressing room that is hungry for success."
Bale's sale could now trigger a series of deals involving other Premier League clubs before the transfer window closes at 23:00 BST on Monday.

A first-half Leo Messi hat-trick proved enough to earn Barça a nervous victory over Valencia at Mestalla tonight. Messi’s goals gave Barça a commanding 0-3 lead in a brilliant opening 41 minutes from Barça but two late first-half strikes from Helder Postiga put Valencia back in the game. After the explosive end to the first half neither side could find the net in the second period. There were chances for both sides with the closest attempt coming in the 86th minute when Victor Valdés got his fingertips to Jonas Gonçalves’s shot before the ball bounced out off the post.
With Xavi and Alexis rested, Tata Martino made the logical decision to bring Pedro back on the right wing while restoring Iniesta to midfield to form a trio with Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas. There had been interest to see whether Iniesta or Fabregas would play the Xavi role of organising the team and from the kick off it seemed clear that Iniesta was in his normal position on the left of midfield with Fabregas on the right. However, Iniesta played a more reserved game which allowed Fabregas to excel in a varied role, dropping back sometimes but more often surging forward to support Messi through the middle while also impressing with an array of passes.
Both teams played a high pressing game from the start but there was little penetration until the 8th minute when Messi fired wide after Fabregas slipped a pass into the area. After this, for a splendid twenty-minute spell, Barça began to find space behind Valencia’s high defence with remarkable regularity. Iniesta sent Neymar haring for goal but after entering the penalty area the Brazilian tried to turn only to find the Valencia defence closing him down. Thirty seconds later and Messi played a superb pass through to Neymar who this time managed to shoot past Diego Alves only to have the goal disallowed for offside. The replay suggested that Guardado had played Neymar onside but in less than a minute Barça had the ball in the net and this time it counted. Busquets found Fabregas who threaded a ball through for Messi to chase, Diego Alves came running out of his goal but Messi resisted the goalkeeper’s challenge, sprinting on to beat Ricardo Costa to the ball and force it over the line.
A familiar pattern followed of Barça pinning an opponent back in its own half. Neymar curled one wide after Messi’s neat pass and Iniesta drove over from 25 yards. The nervousness in the Valencia defence was demonstrated by Diego Alves sending a loose pass towards Iniesta who was just impeded from shooting by an excellent intervention from Michel Herrera. Then in the 27th minute Messi set Fabregas up with a shooting chance and Diego Alves had to be alert to save the awkward bouncing sidefooter from 25 yards.
Valencia had hardly been seen in attack until Pabon fired in a 30-yarder from the left that went straight at Valdés in the 31st minute, then three minutes later Pabon shot again from a bit closer but the effort lacked power and Valdés dived comfortably to gather. There was nothing easy about Valdés’s next save, Ever Banega found Pabon inside the area and the Barça keeper sprang magnificently to his left to parry the Columbian striker’s shot.
The game had been intense and entertaining up until this point but the final minutes of the first half were breathtaking. In the 39th minute Busquets robbed Canales midway inside the Valencia half, knocking the ball on to Fabregas who played Messi into the right of the area to beat Diego Alves with a right-footed finish into the far corner. Messi completed his hat-trick two minutes later and Fabregas was again involved. Messi started the move, finding the ex-Arsenal man in the inside left position, Fabregas then sent Neymar into the left of the area and the Brazilian slipped a neat pass through to Messi who had continued his run through the middle to steer the ball low past Diego Alves from eight yards.
Three-nil up and Barça should have been home and dry. Things started to go awry in the 44th minute when Pedro underhit a back-pass to Valdés, allowing Postiga a chance which Valdés managed to deflect out for a corner. A minute later the ball came out to João  Pereira on the right, Neymar didn’t drop back to cover, allowing Pereira the chance to cross to the near post where Postiga met the ball with hooked shot that flew past Valdés just inside the near post.
The game then entered first half injury time which had been signalled to be just one minute. Inexplicably the referee, Jose Antonio Teixeira Vitienes, allowed play to run on for more than two minutes in which time first Valdés had to tip over from Banega’s 20-yard drive, then from the resulting corner Postiga rose above Alves and Iniesta at the near post to power a header across Valdés inside the far post. Two-three, and finally Teixeira Vitienes blew for half time.
Both sides began the second half more cautiously but as Valencia gradually pushed further forward the chances started coming at both ends. Guardado had Valencia’s first attempt after the break, blasting wide after Pabon’s assist, then soon after, Messi let fly from 25 yards, forcing Diego Alves to tip the ball over. Then in the 64th minute, Iniesta, who had a relatively quiet game, delivered a fine cross from the left but Pedro misplaced his header from eight yards. Pedro’s misfortune continued a couple of minutes later when he hesitated after Messi’s chested pass and missed a possible shooting opportunity. Valencia’s coach Miroslav Djukic reacted by bringing on Feghouli and Jonas, and soon after Martino sent on Tello in Pedro’s place.
As the game neared its end the tension mounted with the Mestalla public trying to roar their team on to an equalizer. One very good Valencia build-up in the 79th minute led to Jonas firing a shot that was deflected for a corner. Then from the resulting kick Ricardo Costa headed over the Barça crossbar.
Martino brought on Johnathan dos Santos in place of the tiring Fabregas, a signal to the critics that the Barça coach has faith in his youngsters to perform in important moments. Fabregas wasn’t the only one showing signs of fatigue as the heat and humidity took effect which led to the game remaining open to the end. In the 83rd minute Messi came agonizingly close to his fourth goal, his shot grazing the post after a splendid flick from Neymar and a quick exchange of passes with Alba. A minute later Neymar headed the ball into Messi’s path but the Argentinian couldn’t force the ball past Diego Alves.
Then came the heart-stopping moment for Barça fans, Piqué failed to make a good clearance, sending the ball to Jonas who turned Piqué and Mascherano this way and that before cracking in a low shot that Valdés just managed to touch with the tips of his fingers and the ball bounced out off the base of the post.
There was still time for a double chance for Alba and Messi but Diego Alves completed a fine game by stopping both efforts. Both goalkeepers, despite the goals conceded, had very good game which should help to demonstrate the quality of the entertainment. In one final push from Valencia Valdés first gathered Feghouli’s weak header, then in the final action of the game the Barça keeper punched clear a Valencia corner. Nine points out of nine for Martino’s Barça but the pressure is on with Atlético, Villarreal and Madrid all winning their first three games too.
Valencia: Diego Alves; João  Pereira, Rami, Ricardo Costa, Guardado; Michel Herrera (Dani Parejo m82), Javi Fuego; Pabón, Banega (Feghouli m68), Canales (Jonas m68); Postiga.
Barça: Valdés 8; Dani Alves 6.5, Piqué 6, Mascherano 7, Alba 6.5; Fabregas 9 (Dos Santos m80, 6.5), Busquets 8, Iniesta 7; Pedro 6 (Tello m72, 6.5), Messi 8.5, Neymar 7 (Sergi Roberto m91, –).
Goals: m11 Messi 0-1, m39 Messi 0-2, m41 Messi, m45 Postiga 1-3, m45+3 Postiga 2-3.
Yellow cards: m17 Pereira, m29 Alba, m65 Dani Alves, m74 Neymar.