Barcelona beat Mallorca to stay top
Barcelona 4-2 Mallorca
An under-strength Barcelona returned to free-scoring form following two consecutive draws by hitting four past Mallorca in front of 85,000 fans inside a blustery Camp Nou on Saturday night.
Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach, opted to rest Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta – arguably three of the best players in world football – for the visit of the Islanders and, for the first ten minutes, it appeared to have stripped his side of any craft.
That was until Zlatan Ibrahimovic produced an outrageous piece of skill to open up the Mallorca backline and send Pedro clear for the opening goal of the game.
The magnificent Swede picked up a loose ball with his back to goal on the periphery of the 18-yard box and dragged the ball back to play an exquisite backheel between three defenders for Pedro to latch on to and slot the ball left-footed into the bottom corner.
The emerging talent wheeled away in delight to celebrate his seventh goal of the season. The young Spaniard boasts an incredible record of scoring in all five competitions – a feat unmatched by any other player in Barcelona’s illustrious history.
Another Ibrahimovic backheel almost created a second goal two minutes later.
The prolific striker used his ingenuity with the heel of his foot to tee-up Thierry Henry for a strike 25 yards from goal. The Frenchman’s low effort was spilled by Mallorca goalkeeper Dudu Aouate and almost fell to Pedro before the Israeli international scrambled low down to his left and claimed the ball with both hands.
The goalkeeper was again on hand to deny Pedro after Henry’s cut back across the goalmouth was diverted into the path of the 22-year-old Spaniard on 18 minutes. Aouate was quick to advance on Pedro and block him before he could get his shot away at the far post.
Mallorca almost drew the score level through striker Pierre Webo shortly after.
Jose Luis Marti’s incisive through ball evaded Gerald Pique’s poor attempt of an interception to send Webo clear through on goal. The Cameroon international opted to take the shot on early and Victor Valdes had to be at his best to turn the ball around his left-hand post.
The Islanders did, however, grab an equaliser from the resulting corner-kick.
Miscommunication between Pique and Dmytro Chygrynskiy led to the former Manchester United defender glancing a headed clearance to the far post when the Ukrainian was ideally placed to clear the ball from danger and Mallorca captain Nunes stooped to head down past the stranded Valdes and into the the net from six yards.
Barca continued to dominate possession as the away side struggled to break from their own half, but it wasn’t until the 40th minute that Guardiola’s side regained their advantage and it took several attempts to find the net.
A ball played over the top of the Mallorca defence by Saydou Keita allowed Pedro to volley at goal six yards from the far post. Aouate brilliantly blocked the effort and the ball fell to Henry whose follow-up shot was again blocked by the inspired goalkeeper.
The rebound was drilled back at goal by Sergio Busquets and again saved by Aouate but this time Pedro made no mistake and finally powered the ball in off the defender and into the corner to the despair of the goalkeeper.
Barca notched a third goal shortly before the break and it came to the immense relief of Thierry Henry.
A free-kick floated towards the back post was met and headed back across goal by Busquets for the former Arsenal great to dive and head home from close-range his first goal in a Barcelona shirt since the 6-2 mauling of Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu last May.
Guardiola introduced both Messi and Xavi by the hour mark but it coincided with a period of scrappy play that saw Barca surrender possession from the back on far too many occasions.
Ukrainian centre-half Chygrynskiy again failed to impress since his £20 million arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer and was guilty of misplacing several passes.
Ibrahimovic and Messi began to combine to greater effect as the half progressed but it wasn’t until the final ten minutes when Barca applied pressure and threatened the Mallorca goal.
Second-half substitute Iniesta played a ball through for Ibrahimovic to shoot across goal from left to right, but the Swedish superstar failed to direct it inside Aouate’s near post and tamely hit the side netting.
Mallorca survived a penalty appeal on 84 minutes when Ibrahimovic’s pull-back appeared to strike the raised arm of Nunes as he slid to snuff out the striker.
Messi should have made it four a minute later after darting into the 18-yard box and skipping past a defender before an attempted clearance rebounded against the Argentine into the path of Ibrahimovic. His hooked ball back across goal found Messi but the majestic forward failed to control his effort and blazed high over the bar from close-range.
But Messi was not going to be denied a goal before the game was out and was on hand to despatch a spot-kick after Ibrahimovic was cynically tripped by former Liverpool full-back Josemi inside the area.
He nonchalantly stepped up to send Aouate the wrong way and tucked the ball left-footed into the bottom-right corner.
Barcelona switched off in the closing moments and allowed Mallorca to reduce their margin of victory with a second.
Gonzalo Castro’s through pass found fellow second-half substitute Alhassane Keita – who was being played onside in the box by Eric Abidal – and after taking a touch the Guinean striker placed the ball into the gap at Valdes’ near post.
Barcelona: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Chygrynskiy, Abidal, Busquets (Xavi, 60), Toure, Keita, Pedro (Mesii, 51), Ibrahimovic, Henry (Iniesta, 82)
Mallorca: Aouate, Josemi, Nunes, Ramis, Ayoze, Marti, Suarez (Keita, 73), Varela, Tuni (Castro, 59), Valero, Webo (Casadesus, 82)
Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Created the opener with an exquisite display of skill, won the penalty for Barca’s fourth and was the focal point of all attacks.