Barcelona strolled to a 3-0 victory over Celta Vigo to move to the top of the Primera Division, but were left anxiously waiting to learn the full extent of a knee injury suffered by Victor Valdes.
On the back of their dramatic win over Real Madrid, Barcelona were again impressive, although Celta Vigo never provided them with any serious challenge. On his first occasion leading out a side at the Camp Nou, former Barca player and coach Luis Enrique sent out his team to try and squeeze the play. Yet, unable to apply the necessary pressure on the ball, their high line was victimized time and again, especially in a first half when Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi were superb.
Neymar supplied the opening goal from close range just five minutes in before Messi struck the second before the interval from Iniesta’s through ball. But in between came a serious-looking knee injury to Valdes. While tests are still to take place at a nearby hospital, fears will be rampant that the 32-year-old could miss the climax to the season and thus have played his last match for the club, given his decision to leave the club in the summer.
Valdes’ absence was never going to be a major factor in this match, however. His replacement Jose Manuel Pinto performed admirably and made a superb double save before Neymar got his second to complete a most straightforward win. The Catalans will now watch onto to see if Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid can get the wins they need to go back above them in this thrillingly tight title race.
Barcelona began the match with the infusion of confidence doubtless provided by Sunday’s Clasico win in full evidence. It was also clear from the very early going how dangerous Celta’s game plan was. In the fourth minute their defensive line just about got it right to catch Messi offside before he put the ball into the net. But just a minute later Barca got their timing right.
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Cutting in from the right, Messi slipped a sublime pass through to Alexis Sanchez down the right of the box and the Chilean showed his awareness to square it across the six-yard box, cutting out Yoel in the Celta goal, and leaving Neymar with the simplest of tasks to tap in.
With Celta refusing to alter their approach, it appeared only a matter of time before their five-man defensive line would be breached once more. Messi twice broke in behind, but first his square ball was unable to be converted by Neyamr on the stretch, while, when clean through down the middle, the Argentine got the ball somewhat stuck under his foot and could only shoot straight at Yoel.
With 20 minutes gone, Barcelona had their biggest scare of the half and an unwelcome moment of déjà vu. Having conceded a penalty for an incident outside the box against Real Madrid, the same injustice appeared to be occurring once more when the referee pointed to the spot for an Adriano handball that was least two yards outside the area. Thankfully the referee saw the error of his ways, but the worry was not over for the hosts.
Valdes was unable to hold Fabian Orellana’s free-kick at the first-time of asking and as he landed and went to smother the ball his knee suffered a painful injury. Out of contract and leaving the club at the end of the season, amid the agony he feeling as he was carted off the pitch must have been the thought that this could be a most unwelcome end to a glorious career at the Camp Nou.
The long stoppage did little to halt Barcelona’s momentum and with 30 minutes gone they got a second goal that had been a long time coming. The method, too, was all-too predictable. The wonderful Iniesta supplied another fine pass, allowing Messi to turn easily past former Barca youngster Andreu Fontas before taking it around Yoel and finishing on his right side.
With the job effectively done, Iniesta left the match as a precaution at half time. Celta did finally mount some attacking pressure after the break. And Pinto was required to show that he can still excel, even at 38 years of age, to keep the visitors off the score sheet. He reacted superbly to stick out a hand and deny a clever flick from Augusto Fernandez and then recovered rapidly to keep out a follow-up effort from Santi Mina.
And there was to be a third goal for Barcelona midway through the second half, with Celta again exposed in behind. One of the adjustments Tata Martino has made this season has been a greater reliance on long passes and that came to fruition as Sanchez picked out Neymar in behind from inside his own half. The Brazilian took his time down the left of the area before drilling a left-footed shot that took a slight deflection off of Fontas on its way past Yoel. But by that point thoughts had already long since turned to their ailing goalkeeper.