By: kelsey | December 16th, 2011
A resounding victory in the semi-finals of a cup race would usually buoy the spirits of Barca players, coaches, and fans, but not today. the match play, the scoreline, and even the build up to the highly anticipated final vs. Santos, take backseat to the serious injury sustained by David Villa during the match. (If you have the have the heart to bear it, read our up-to-date coverage on Villa’s broken tibia here.)
At any rate, the match review would’ve spotlighted the surprising stars of this match (goals by Keita, Maxwell, and a brace from Adriano?), but El Guaje’s injury rightfully and unfortunately dominates the headlines and overshadows the game.
El Guaje promised this would not be the last we’d see of him this season…and we believe him!
Pep went with a starting line that predictably allowed some of our Sunday starters to rest. Valdes started in net of course (they say Pinto was spotted on the bench but I’d need to see it to believe it). Mascherano and Puyol paired up center back (still can’t get over how good it feels to see Puyol and his mane back on the pitch) with Abidal and Adriano flanking them. Keita played holding midfielder while Iniesta and Thiago featured in the center meaning Xavi was rested for one of the first times all season. last season’s favored frontline, Messi, Villa, and Pedro, started up front. Al-Sadd went with a starting XI of Mohamed, Belhadj, Lee, Wesam, Kasola, Niang, Keita, Ibrahim, Khalfan, Talal and Koni.
So this is what it feels like to start on the bench; what a strange sensation.
As expected, Barca controlled possession of the ball and the game in general from the first whistle. Playing in a more traditional 4-3-3 formation at the beginning, Barcelona kept the ball in the Al-Sadd half throughout much of the game as Al-Sadd was content to sit back and defend often with all 11 players in their own half. in the first 15 minutes, Iniesta looked particularly dangerous orchestrating attacks, and Pedro, flailing arms and all, did well to widen the field and create nice chances. Though while Barcelona did a nice job pressing, the team wasn’t getting off good shots, which can be credited, largely, to Al-Sadd’s defending (and the congestion of bodies in their final third).
Now you see me; now you don't.
Unfortunately for Al-Sadd, the defensive stand wasn’t going to last and an awful miscue between the keeper and a defender gave the opportunistic Adriano an easy first goal. Adriano, who had otherwise not been very involved in the game, pressed forward after Pedro had sent a nice ball to the far post. both the Al-Sadd defender and the keeper were in a good position to clear it, but neither did, and Adriano rushed forward and deflected the ball into the net. that was really the beginning of the end of Al-Sadd’s hopes of making it to the finals.
One of Barcelona’s presents under the tree this year? a gift wrapped first goal from me.
After the first goal, Barcelona’s attacks started to threaten more. Barca crosses started raining into the Al-Sadd box (clearly the weather is a bit different halfway around the globe as crosses rarely rain in Catalonia) and it seemed as though nearly everyone was pushing forward on the attack.
As for El Guaje, he went from a peak to a valley in a matter of minutes. Villa’s performance on the pitch was getting better as the game progressed and he had a few good goal scoring opportunities including one rebound he put away, but was called off as he was offside. while Al-Sadd managed to clear, the ball quickly made its way back to Villa when Iniesta sent a good long ball from midfield up the pitch to him. on a full sprint with two defenders pressing tightly, Villa tried to control the ball and nearly got the shot off, but came down hard on his right leg breaking his tibia in the process. Few, if any, aside from Villa himself realized the extent of the injury at the time as Villa resignedly raised his hand for the stretcher but made no cry of pain or other indication of what had happened. Pep even kept the squad at 10 men for a few minutes likely hoping Villa could go back out before he subbed in Alexis. (Chronic divers should be required to watch the video of Villa’s fall and reaction and perhaps it would make them feel a bit of shame at their own theatrics. Ahem ahem Dive Maria, C-Ron.)
You will be missed, El Guaje
Shortly thereafter in the last 5 minutes of the half, Barca continued to threaten and it looked as though a second goal before the half was foregone conclusion. Thankfully the squad did not disappoint. Good movement by Alexis distracted defenders in the box, and Thiago sent a nice pass to Adriano in space. Adriano shot the ball to the far corner beating the keeper for his second goal of the night.
A brace from Adriano? had not figured that into my master plan, but I’ll take it!
Half ended with Al-Sadd getting their first two chances of the night in the Barca end, but Al-Sadd’s Keita hit his shot well over the bar and the free kick Al-Sadd earned a few plays later in a dangerous position outside the box bounced harmlessly against the wall.
The second half started much like the first half with Barcelona dominating possession and looking to attack. Sanchez nearly made the score 3-0 but was called offside in a close decision. Iniesta also came close but the ball was deflected away. Al-Sadd was just defending and had little energy left so they began fouling more.
In the build up to the third goal, the Al-Sadd keeper made his save of the night off a good Leo Messi free kick from 25 yards out. Barca played the resulting corner short, and passed the ball back to midfield where they built a quick attack. Messi received the ball in the center and found Keita on the right side of the box in space; Keita sent his shot around the keeper to the far side of the net finishing beautifully. Great pass from Messi and great finish from Keita. 3-0 Barca.
This one was for you, Tito.
With the game nearly put away, Pep subbed Maxwell for Abidal, who will need to rest up for Sunday. Cuenca also came on for Alexis a bit later, and there is talk of the Hamstring Curse revisiting Alexis (please, God, no). Messi had one chance to score a bicycle, but could not get his shot on net.
Again showing the Barcelona’s second string can get it done, Maxwell and Thiago connected with a nice 1-2 on the left side of the box and Maxwell sent a hard shot past the keeper to the far post. Very good game for Thiago who provided two assists and did a good tracking back on defense earning himself a clap from Captain Puyi at one point in the second half.
Congrats, little buddy.
At this point, focus was less on the players on the pitch and more with David Villa and news of his injury. Hard fouls on Cuenca, Puyol, and Mascherano late in the game left fans less than pleased with Al-Sadd especially given what had happened to Villa earlier. Puyol, to the surprise of no one, refused the stretcher and walked off seemingly okay after a hard cleat first challenge; Masch, on the other hand, needed it, and has a deep bruise.
Final time sounded with Barca easily securing the victory and the path to the final on Sunday vs Santos. Enthusiasm for that highly anticipated match is tempered though by thought of Villa’s injury, and I don’t really have the heart to do individual ratings when the team felt such a loss with Villa’s likely season-ending injury (fingers crossed though that Barca makes it to the CL finals and Villa can play there like Abi did last year!). As Iniesta put it after the match, “into the final with a bad taste in our mouths. Strength, David, we’re with you! Hope we can dedicate him this title!”.
Let’s hope, as Iniesta and other players said, that the team can win on Sunday and dedicate the title to Villa.
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