What will be a first away day for Villanova to forget, somehow ended up with Barcelona returning from Pamplona with 3 points.
A lacklustre performance from the Catalans looked for most part that they would encounter their first taste of defeat this season as Osasuna striker Llorente latched onto a deep Lamah cross to stun a weary Barca defence. Without Mascherano, there seemed little communication between the back four and the midfield, Puyol was all at sea for most part although he played the final 15 minutes with a broken cheekbone after an aerial collision with Lamah.
Sergio Busquets stood out as the key Barca man to keep them in the tie as Barca wasted numerous chances with Alexis firing straight down the keepers through when he should have made the keeper work harder, and Iniesta who despite played out of his skin midweek, looked a shadow of his normal self, ballooning over from 18 yards just before the break.
Messi couldn’t get the breaks he wanted as the Osasuna defence stood firm and even when he got the better of them they got back in numbers to prevent him rounding the keeper in the first half. Messi lacked support from his team mates throughout the first half. Rather disappointingly, Alexis and Tello were caught offside far too frequently although some calls seemed very tight they both seemed too eager to get going and it summed up from Alexis what was an overall poor showing. He didn’t seem willing to take on the full back and instead kept waiting for Dani Alves to overlap him which allowed the Osasuna defence to get back and regroup thus opportunities to expose the defence were missed.
Nothing seemed to get going and when it did, opportunities were often scrappy or poorly executed. Something had to change in the second half, but if anything Barca looked even more on edge, Puyol very nearly let in Nino who shot wide when he had 2 players either side who could have easily tapped into an empty net. That let off for Barca seemed to inspire them a little as Pedro who replaced Cesc on 63 minutes, offered width, pace and plenty of attacking pedigree on the ball and the arrival of Xavi for Iniesta looked to get things rolling. However it wasn’t until the arrival of David Villa on 74 minutes when the tie really turned! The 4-3-3 formation turned into what looked a 3-3-4 with Messi and Alexis acting as centre forwards or ‘false 9’s’, Villa and Pedro wide with Alba and Alves playing in high wing back rolls alongside Xavi in the centre, as Busquets dropped just in front of Pique and Puyol. Immediately the presence of Villa was visible and some nice tidy work with Pedro and Messi ended with the Argentine outstretching his leg to poke the ball home from close range although there was a hint of offside from Alexis in the build-up. 3 minutes later Punal was sent off for Osasuna for what I understand was foul and abusive language towards the officials about the first goal and within 60 seconds Messi tucked away a tidy finish to make it 1-2 on 80 minutes after a great dummy run from Villa, who took away two defenders leaving Messi in space and plenty of time to slot home the cross into the corner of the goal.
The final 15 minutes was more the like the Barca we know, but the first 75 minutes was a repeat of Villarreal away in January. They looked sloppy all round and a goal didn’t look like it was going to happen. The changes from Tito bringing on the conductor (Xavi) for a tired looking Iniesta, and Pedro and Villa for Cesc and Tello did the damage as required. Osasuna is a tough place to go, if anything they are like the Stoke City of La Liga, they have their own style and they will try and shut out your style of play, and having a poorer quality pitch makes it a difficult place to win for any club, even the likes of Barca, Real Madrid and Valencia as it’s notoriously a difficult place to go and do what they normally do.
3 Points was very nice, and it was great to see a contingency plan enforced when things weren’t going right and it come off. With Real Madrid in the second leg of the Super Cup on Wednesday and Valencia at home on Saturday the blaugrana have a lot of football early doors in the season but hopefully it will further increase their sharpness. It’s widely known Osasuna isn’t a place to go and freely play football as bigger teams like too, I’m not saying it was a one off tonight, but really we all know what Barca are capable of on their day. I blame the new kit!