Saturday, 29 January 2011

Match Report: Hércules 0 Barcelona 3

FT: Hércules 0 - Barcelona 3 (Pedro 43, Messi 87 & 89)

So, there was to be no repeat. No second hit, no second bolt of lightning, no fuck me did that just happen?

Instead it was the regular Saturday night out for Barcelona. Another three points, another three goals, another clean sheet and another quality performance, without ever stretching beyond third gear.

Hércules started brightly, attempting to replicate the game plan that had brought them victory at the Nou Camp in September. Nelson Valdez and Kiko, playing either side of David Trezeguet, pushed high up the field to pressure Barcelona's back four when in possession. This initially allowed the hosts to prevent Victor Valdes distributing the ball from the back in the manner he is accustomed to. However, as Hércules tired in the second-half the downside of this tactic was cruelly exposed - Valdes able to deliver the ball beyond these three front players to Sergio Busquets, Maxwell or Dani Alves - leaving Hércules with three fewer players behind the ball.

Yet, whilst the Alicantans energy levels were still brimming in the first-half, their aggressive pressing style did have a modicum of success. Despite early warning shots from Leo Messi and Pedro the home defence was relatively untroubled. And the hosts could have been ahead on 21 minutes. An accurate diagonal ball found Valdez in the area and his clever back-header left Trezeguet with the goal at his mercy. However, with the ball bouncing awkwardly, the former French international was unable to wrap his foot around it and only succeeded in proding wide.

Having been let of the hook Barcelona then started to dominate. Pedro was denied by Peña before Alves and David Villa failed to find the target. It wasn't long, though, before the visitors were in front. Xavi, almost inevitably, the creator with a wonderful first time pass through for Pedro to fire home.

The goal was the Canarian's 19th of the season, the sixth league game in a row in which he has hit the back of the net. I seem to repeat this every week but Pedro has become an integral member of the Barca starting XI and any talk of Fernando Torres heading to Catalonia fails to acknowledge just how good he has been for the past 18 months.

The second-half was much more comfortable for the champions as Hércules' intensity dropped. The visitors enjoyed upwards of 70% of the possession and could and should have killed the game off long before they did.

Xavi fired just wide after he and Messi had worked space on the edge of the area five minutes after the break before Valdez had Hércules' only effort of the second period. However, his tame volley bobbled into the hands of his namesake in the Barcelona goal.

Messi then went agonisingly close on two occasions, shooting wide of both Catalayud's posts, before the Hércules keeper produced a fine save from the Argentine.

Despite the dominance of his side Pep Guardiola couldn't relax until the final five minutes when a hat-trick of nails were hammered into the Hércules coffin. Firstly, substitute Francisco Farinos was sent-off for two yellow cards following an ill-advised lunge on Busquets. Messi then eventually did get his goal with a trademark shimmy and finish on his left foot. And within two minutes he had a second, the rampaging Alves with a terrific run and cross allowing the Argentine the simplest of finishes.

It was a 15th consecutive league victory for Pep's boys who, let's face it, look like they could easily win another 15 on the trot. The gap over Real Madrid has again been extended to seven points and with a tricky trip to Pamplona in store for Mourinho's men tomorrow night the pressure has been pushed up a notch.

As for Hércules, well Trezeguet said it better than I could:

"We play in a different league from Barcelona. We can just continue to prepare for Valencia next week."

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