Racing – FC Barcelona: Messi stamps his mark on El Sardinero (0-2)

PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB
Leo Messi was again on target against Racing de Santander tonight, scoring both goals as the team extended its winning run to six games with a 0-2 win

A goal in each half from the Argentinean was enough to give Barça the points and their sixth win on the run in a game they dominated from the off. Barça controlled possession and showed clinical finishing up front with Leo Messi adding to his five goals in midweek with two more that take him even closer to the Club’s all time leading scorer Cesar, who he now trails by just five goals.

The win leaves Barça 10 points off the leader going into a week where they have no game until next Saturday’s trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan to face Seville.

Only one team attacking

Guardiola showed his attacking intentions with his team selection, lining up with a three man defence made up of Alves, Mascherano and the fit again Puyol, and with Racing sitting deep and hoping to hold out for a goalless draw, Barça were soon in charge, commanding possession and controlling the game. It looked to be simply a matter of when rather than if the first goal would come.

Messi and Cesc link up

Pedro had the first good chance, with a drive that just shaved the post before Iniesta rattled the woodwork and Cesc was only denied by the busy Mario in the Racing goal. The resistance could only last so long though, and when Xavi set up Cesc on the right, his pinpoint cross gave Messi a simple tap in to open the scoring.

Messi marks his half century

Racing now went even further back into their shell, which simply allowed Barça more time on the ball to find a way through the hosts’ packed defence and when Cisma brought down Cesc in the box after the break, Messi made no mistake from the spot for his 50th goal of the season.

With the game done and dusted, Guardiola rang the changes and gave Tello, Keita and Adriano a run out, with Cuenca, Xavi and Pedro coming off.

Racing – FC Barcelona: Santander test for winning streak

PHOTO: ARCHIVE FCB
6 pm, R@dio Barça, GolT and Canal+ Liga: Barça go for their sixth consecutive away win against Racing

The presence of Puyol is the main news in the Barça squad
The New Sardinero will be a good test of Barça’s current form.  The team have put together a run of three league wins plus an imposing ride into the quarterfinals of the Champions LeagueFive wins in the last five encounters.  The battle to maintain this winning streak– Barça are 13 points adrift of Real Madrid after the victory in Seville – will be played out in the New Sardinero, a ground Barça have found very favourable over the past three seasons.

Rich pickings for Guardiola

Since Pep Guardiola took charge, Barça have won all of their matches away to Racing: 1-2 (2008/09), 1-4 (2009/10) and 0-3 (2010/11). It’s been particularly fertile ground for Leo Messi, who scored five in the three games including Barça’s 5000th league goal.  The match also comes on the back of Messi’s five-goal exhibition against Bayer Leverkusen (7-1), a feat that delighted fans across Europe.

Doubts in defence

The presence of Carles Puyol in the squad is the main news though the Barça captain has yet to get full clearance from Club doctors.  However, Piqué (suspended) plus Thiago, Abidal, Alexis, Villa, Afellay and Fontàs (injury) are all discounted.  With so many players missing or doubtful, Guardiola has a limited number of options, especially in defence, and has drafted in Tello, Muniesa, Sergi Roberto, Bartra and Montoya from the reserves.

A difficult week for Racing

It’s been a difficult week for Racing Santander.  The club, which currently sits second from bottom and three points adrift of safety, sacked manager Juanjo Gonzalez and brought in Álvaro Cervera, until then manager of Recreativo.  The new man has had very little time to prepare his players and will also have to cope with the absence of goalkeeper Toño (suspended) and forward Acosta (injured).

FC Barcelona arrives in Santander

Xavi en l'arribada a l'aeroport de Santander / FOTO: Miguel Ruiz FCB
The team led by Josep Guardiola arrived in Santander where they will play against Racing tomorrow at 18:00. The team was received by 300 Barça supporters in Cantabria

FC Barcelona commenced their trip to Cantabria this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s match Racing Santander (18:00). The Barça team left the Camp Nou at 18:15 for El Prat airport. The plane took off at 19:15 and was scheduled to land in Santander at 20:10. The team was received by 300 Barça supporters who didn’t want to miss their chance to see the first team.

The coaching staff and the 18 players named to the squad, plus Carles Puyol, who doesn’t have the medical all-clear, including vice-president Javier Faus, director Pilar Guinovart and football director Andoni Zubizarreta form the Barça expedition.

Upon arrival, the team went straight to their hotel, Hotel Real. On Sunday, after the match against Racing, the first team will return to Barcelona at 21:30. Their plane is scheduled to land in the Catalan capital at 22:40.

An historic goal in Santander

Messi and Eto'o in the 2008/09 season. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.
Since 2008, Leo Messi can’t stop scoring goals on his visits to Racing Santander, including the Club’s historic 5,000th league goal

This Sunday, Barça go to Santander with only one result on their minds – a win.  Ever since Guardiola took over as first team manager, Barça have won on all their visits to Racing.  Messi has been a key element, scoring five times in just three matches.  In the treble-winning 2008-09 season, Barça found themselves one down after a goalless first half, thanks to a Zigic penalty. Guardiola reacted immediately by bringing on Messi for Busquets and the Argentine took just six minutes to equalise with a precise strike from inside the goal area.

Goal nº 5,000 in the league

Barça dominated possession and pushed hard for all three points with their trademark passing game.  Finally, in the 80th minute Messi chested down the ball inside the Racing penalty area, skipped past his marker and tucked the ball away with a right foot shot from the edge of the goal area, beyond the reach of Racing goalkeeper Toño.  Messi’s goal handed Barça the win but will go down in the Club’s history as Barça’s 5,000th league goal.

Always influential

Last season, Barça kicked off their league campaign with a visit to El Sardinero. Messi needed just three minutes to put Barça ahead with a superb chip over the head of Toño. Barça never lost this early advantage and the match ended 0-3.  The following season (2009-2010), Swedish striker Ibrahimovic got the opening goal and Messi added a second three minutes later.  At halftime, Barça led 0-3, but Messi added a fourth, his second, and the match finally ended 1-4.

Guardiola: "Let everyone know: We’ve won so much because we’ve been better than the rest"

Guardiola / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The Barça manager has emphasised that winning 13 out of 16 titles is the merit of the players. “This is all down to the athletes, who have performed so well over the whole period”

“Nobody’s gifted us anything. What we’ve won we’ve won with a lot of hard work”

Turning to Sunday’s match, Guardiola told reporters that new Racing manager Álvaro Cervera added an unknown factor to the preparations

Speaking at the pre-match press conference ahead of the game against Racing Santander, Josep Guardiola insisted that all the successes of FC Barcelona over the past four years are exclusively the responsibility of the quality and hard work of the players.  However, he emphasised that the fact that Real Madrid lead the way in the league by a margin of ten points is also a reflection of their merit.

“Winning 13 out of 16 titles is all down to the athletes.  In the end this game always belongs to the players.  We’ve won because we’ve got some fantastic players.  This is all down to the athletes, who have performed so well over the whole period”.  No doubt speaking with Jose Mourinho in mind, Guardiola made it quite clear that it is the players who win the titles.

Along the same lines, and bearing in mind recent comments by former Club vice-president Alfons Godall, Guardiola said: “Godall knows, as do Rosell and Florentino, that we have won because we’ve competed with hard work.  It’s very bad for football if the merit doesn’t go to Messi and Cristiano. We’ve won so much because we’ve been better than the rest.  If Madrid are ten points ahead it’s because they’ve been better and we have slipped up.  We accept responsibility.  And if I say we won’t win the league it’s because making up that gap with Real Madrid is very difficult, as it is to referee.”

However, Guardiola is used to this kind of pressure: “We’ve been like this for four years, always being under suspicion in everything we do for different reasons.  This year’s no exception.  It’s always for reasons that are not down to our team.”

A reply to Mourinho

Guardiola was also very clear in his reply to comments made by José Mourinho: “Yes, he may have been referring to me.  I hope he says the name next time.  Everybody understood that he was going for me.  We’re alike in that we both want to win, there’s no doubt about that.  If I’ve behaved like him in other respects then obviously I’ll have to change my ways.  I don’t feel that he’s like me.  There are words and images for anything.  There are thousands of press conferences.  Our paths are very different. We have always been honest. If in the end it really is like that I’ll have to think harder and try to see where we’ve failed. My aim is not to put my Club and players in a bad light.  I try not to make people ashamed of me as well as to generate a good atmosphere in my team.”

Asked about recent insinuations that relations with the Spanish Federation could have an influence on the referees’ decisions, Guardiola replied: “If that’s the way it is, then the system of refereeing has a big problem. Barça and the rest of the teams have an obligation to maintain a good relationship with the Federation. Referees have been put under a lot of pressure and the president of the Spanish Football Federation should step forward and make a stand. He should come out and say that you win because of Messi, Cristiano and Mourinho, because if not it seems that you win because you’re a friend of Angel Maria Villar (president of the Spanish Football Federation) and then we would have to talk about his buy-out clause”.

Santander coach an incognita

As for Sunday’s match against Racing Santander, Guardiola revealed that Barça has very little information due to the fact that manager Álvaro Cervera has only recently taken over: “We’ll go there without much information. The only thing in our hands is to win our match in Santander. That’s the only thing we can control. Santander is always a tricky ground and even more in the situation they’re in”.