1-0, Ronaldinho (min 34)
2-0, Gudjohnsen (min 55)
3-0, Iniesta (min 69)
4-0, Ronaldinho (min 88)
Ronaldinho was in sparkling form as he scored one of the best goals of 2006 during a dominating display that saw FC Barcelona romp to a 4-0 victory against Villarreal in Camp Nou on Saturday evening.
The crowd inside the stadium witnessed the Blaugrana return to the level that saw them sweep to the title last term as the team chalked up their third consecutive league victory thanks to a brace from Ronaldinho and each from Eidur Gudjohnsen and Andrés Iniesta. Lilian Thuram stepped into the centre of defence and looking strong, Deco shone in midfield, Ronaldinho moved to the top of the scoring charts and Iniesta played a key role with his touch and vision. Despite the long list of injuries to the Barça squad, the team played with confidence and won again as they proved that they are ready to take on Werder Bremen in the Champions League next week.
Good play, but no goal
The first half hour was true reflection of the improvement as the fluency and movement ws outstanding, the defence looked secure and delivered the ball forward well to help build attacks and Edmílson looked sharp. Despite all that, the goal that the home team sought and deserved was missing and until that came the visitors clung on.
Ronaldinho nets number 50
It was in minute 34 that the deadlock was evenutally broken as Gudjohnsen went down in the area and Barça were awarded a penalty which, as usual, Ronaldinho stepped up to take and the Brazilian made no mistake frm 12 yards. His celebration had a special edge as the strike did not just give Barça the lead, but was also Ronaldinho's 50th in the league for the club and the ninth of the this campaign.
With the lead won, Barça put their foot on the gas and pushed forward to create numerous chances. Ronaldinho went close seven minutes before the break, before Deco opened up Villarreal with a solo move a minute later while Gio Van Bronckhorst tested Mariano Barbosa, who produced a fine stop to deny the Dutchman. Despite not giving themselves a greater cushion with which to go into the break, the performance was enough for the Blaugrana to move into the second period with great confidence.
Gudjohnsen makes it two
The same trio of Ronaldinho, Deco and Van Bronckhorst ended with the full-back firing wide, but the move breathed life into the team as the game restarted in the same manner that the first half had ended. There was no reason to panic though as ten minutes in the game was put beyond Villarreal's reach with a second goal for the hosts. Gudjohnsen continued to endear himself to the Barça fans as the Icelandic forward was in the right place at the right time to meet a cross from Iniesta to to head home at the far post.
Despite now looking comfortable, Frank Rijkaard's side did not relent and the ball remained entrenched in the visitors' half as Villarreal offered almost nothing going forward to worry Víctor Valdés, except one clear chance that Diego Forlán struck against the post. Moments after that scare Barça added to their lead to move three goals clear. Iniesta, who scored in the team's previous two matches, made it three-in-a-row as he was picked out by Gianluca Zambrotta and executed a superb finish from 14 yards out.
With just two minutes remaining, and with Rijkaard having made all his changes, the Camp Nou was treated to a real spectacle as Ronaldinho scored the best goal of the game and, arguably, one of the goals of the season. The Blaugrana number ten has numerous awards but it is actions like this that truly prove that he is still the best football player in the world. The move started with Xavi, who lifted the ball into Ronaldinho and from there the Brazilian superstar controlled the ball on his chest before beating Barbosa with an outrageous over-head kick which left the keeper with no chance and saw the fans pull out their white handkerchiefs to give a real sign of approval.
FC Barcelona will focus on cementing their place at the top of the table this Saturday when they meet Villarreal only days after picking up a crucial victory in the Champions League in Sofia.
The game in Bulgaria on Wednesday was tough both mentally and physically due to the high stakes, but now the team can turn their thoughts to the league tonight (20:00, Barça TV). If Barcelona can produce another display of domineering football that has become their trademark in Camp Nou then they should defeat a team that has a decent recent history against the Blaugrana. The match also represents that last appearance at home before the crucial Champions League encounter with Werder Bremen on December 5.
The injury factor: Upto 11 players are set to miss the game in Camp Nou as both teams have several injury worries. Barça's attacking problems are well-documented, but on Friday both Thiago Motta and Rafa Márquez were ruled out, leaving Carles Puyol and Lilian Thuram in the defence, with Edmílson in front of them. In midfield, Deco, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi are expected to play. One piece of good news on the injury front is that Juliano Belletti has been declared fit, after being sidelined since the Copa del Rey meeting with Badalona.
Villarreal lost Nihat in midweek as the Turkish international was ruled out for the rest of the season after damaging his cruciate knee ligaments and he could be replaced in the side by José Mari. Juan Román Riquelme is in Argentina, with the permission of the club, to attend the birth of his third child, leaving Cani as one of the only creative midfielders available to coach Manolo Pellegrini.
Key replacements: Despite the absence of Samuel Eto'o, Leo Messi and Javier Saviola, Barça have continued to score goals. The four fit forwards in the squad, Ronaldinho, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Ludovic Giuly and Santi Ezquerro, have all shine since being called upon to play regularly due to the injury list. The team maintained their excellent record of scoring three or more goals when winning, during the 4-1 triumph in Mallorca last weekend. The midfielders are also chipping in as Iniesta scored both in the Ono Stadium and in Sofia against Levski and Deco netted against Chelsea in the Champions League.
Reference point: Villarreal have one main player upon which rests their goalscoring hopes in Diego Forlán. On Saturday he should be partnered up front by José Mari, but the Uruguayan striker will still be relied upon to be on the end of crosses, corners, free-kicks and to take penalties, should he be required. Due to the absentees, Pellegrini has called up forward Jonathan Pereiro from the youth ranks again after the youngster made his first team debut earlier in the season.
Previous meetings: Barça have met Villarreal in Camp Nou on oly seven occasions. The home side have won three times, there have been two draws and the Yellow Submarine have two victories to their name. The most common scoreline, which has happened just twice, is 1-0 and that was the margin by which Barcelona triumphed last season on April 14.