Barca score six to cruise to La Liga summit

By Mark Carter

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Barcelona 6 – 1 Zaragoza

Barcelona quashed any rumours of a mini-crisis that culminated midweek with a shock home defeat at the hands of Russian champions Rubin Kazan by hammering Zaragoza 6-1 in the Camp Nou on Sunday night.

A hat-trick for Seydou Keita, a brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a delightful goal by Lionel Messi ensured that Pep Guardiola’s side put their recent indifferent form behind them to open up a three-point lead over arch-rivals Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga table.

The signs were ominous for newly-promoted Zaragoza with the home side opening them up at will to create several goal-scoring opportunities within the first ten minutes.

Messi was the first to test Juan Pablo Carrizo in the Zaragoza goal on four minutes after the away side failed to clear their lines from a Barca corner.

The majestic Argentine took the loose ball on his chest before drilling a low effort that was saved smartly with the goalkeeper – on a season-long loan from Lazio – getting down low to claim the ball with both hands.

A minute later, Messi had another chance to put the Catalan club into the lead following a beautifully-worked passage of build-up play.

Hat-trick hero Keita crossed in a dangerous ball low into the Zaragoza 18-yard box that was cleverly dummied into the path of Xavi by Ibrahimovic, Xavi then slid a pass to Messi on his right for the number 10 to open up his body and curl the ball a yard wide of the far post with his favoured left foot.

The attempts on goal kept racking up. Xavi was again involved as Ibrahimovic took his forward pass on the turn to hit a shot on his weaker side that was held well by Carrizo at his near post.

Zaragoza defended with ten men behind the ball in hope of stopping the rampant home side, but they were unable to prevent an effervescent Messi stinging the palms of Carrizo just minutes later.

Ibrahimovic headed down Xavi’s measured ball over the top into the path of the Argentine and his close-range effort had to be turned around the goalkeeper’s right-hand post and out for a corner.

Zaragoza were rarely able to venture from their own half but managed to on 16 minutes.

Javier Arizmendi latched onto a through pass and held off Gerard Pique before hitting a shot, with the angle against him, which was easily dealt with by Victor Valdes.

Sergio Busquets was almost operating as a third central defender for Barca, allowing the full-backs to camp inside the opposition half and the home side were soon to be denied again by Carrizo.

Ibrahimovic took Dmytro Chygryinskiy’s ball over the Zaragoza backline onto his chest before unleashing an effort that could only be parried by the Argentine goalkeeper.

It was only a matter of time before Barca took the lead and they broke the deadlock on 24 minutes through Keita’s first of the game.

Zaragoza fell asleep and allowed a short corner to be played in for an unmarked Messi to chip a ball over from the by-line that was met by the diving head of the Mali international and headed past Carrizo into the top corner.

Five minutes later, the game looked destined to become Zaragoza’s 18th win-less away game in La Liga stretching back to the season before last, with a free-kick despatched powerfully and accurately by Ibrahimovic from all of 30 yards.

The prolific Swede stood over the dead-ball – awarded after a foul on Andres Iniesta – as the crowd clapped in anticipation before smashing the ball with very little back-lift past the goalkeeper whose effort to stop it could only send the ball into the roof of the net to the jubilant celebrations of the home fans.

Barca found the net for a third time on 36 minutes after mesmeric skill by Messi saw him skip past his man and slide a pass through to Ibrahimovic who drilled the ball home, only to see it chalked-off for offside.

But, shortly before the break, Guardiola’s side made sure they ended the half with a three-goal margin.

A defence-splitting pass patiently played by Xavi set Ibrahimovic through in the left channel. The £60 million summer-arrival then drove into the box before pulling the ball back for Keita to slide in and lash the ball into the roof of the net for his second of the game.

Ibrahimovic saw another goal ruled out by the assistant referee’s flag ten minutes into the second half.

Messi jinked his way past three defenders into the box where his audacious chip over Carrizo was only just foiled by the goalkeeper’s out-stretched arm, the ball fell to Ibrahimovic – standing a yard offside – who found the back of the net.

Barcelona could not be contained and their fourth came two minutes later.

Iniesta battled for possession and played in Keita on the left flank. The former Sevilla midfielder picked out Ibrahimovic at the near post and the striker tucked the ball neatly away to join Valencia’s David Villa at the top of the La Liga scoring chart with seven goals.

Messi was again denied a goal by Carizzo after a delightful one-two with Ibrahimovic inside the box allowed the Ballon d’Or favourite to fire goalwards, but Carrizo was a match to the effort and turned the ball wide with his left boot.

The final 15 minutes began to become an exhibition of keep-ball for Barcelona and they let their concentration slip for Zaragoza’s consolation goal on 78 minutes.

Valdes managed to keep out second-half substitute Ewerthon’s first effort but failed to get a strong-enough hand to Jorge Lopez’s follow-up curling strike as the ball found its way into the bottom corner.

The goal riled the home side and two minutes later they restored their four-goal advantage.

Messi was finally rewarded with a goal that his performance merited after a sloppy pass allowed Iniesta to take up possession and play the dominative forward in on the edge of the box. Messi embarked on goal before lifting the ball expertly over the advancing Carrizo and into the net.

Five minutes from the end, Keita closed the scoring by completing his first Barcelona hat-trick – heading home Iniesta’s corner-kick 12 yards from goal.

Barcelona: Valdes, Puyol, Pique (Marquez, 73), Chygrynskiy, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi (Jeffren, 83), Keita, Iniesta, Ibrahimovic (Bojan, 72), Messi

Zaragoza: Carrizo, Pulido, Amo, Pavon, Paredes, Gabi, Aguilar, Pennant (Lafita, 60), Ander (Songo’o, 78), Jorge Lopez, Arizmendi (Ewerthon, 68)

Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Scored a fantastic free-kick to complete his brace and was involved in every fruitful Barcelona attack before coming off to a standing ovation.

Sunday’s other La Liga results:

Almeria 0-3 Valencia
Getafe 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Racing 1-1 Xerez
Valladolid 4-0 Deportivo
Villarreal 2-1 Malaga

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