1-0, Diego Milito (min.56)
Playing with the same 3-4-3 format that produced such good results at the same venue in the Cup, Barça went for an attacking approach in tonight’s game at La Romareda. But it wasn’t to be, and Zaragoza claimed all three points.
Unlike in the Cup, Barça were not obliged to go out and score early, and played a far more
conservative, waiting game than they had done on their last trip to the Aragonese capital.
Midfielders Márquez, Xavi, Deco and Iniesta seemed to be in comfortable control of the ball in the
middle of the park, but that dominance failed to materialise in many clear-cut goalscoring
opportunities. And it was the home side that fired the first warning, with D’Alessandro
failing to do finish off a terrific move by Sergio García in the second minute. From there on,
Barça’s three-man defence, brilliantly marshalled by Thuram, managed to cope with everything
Zaragoza threw out them, with the only exception of a penetrating run by Diogo that Víctor Valdés
dealt with superbly.
Chance for Messi
FC Barcelona were playing the ball around confidently, but struggled to find a way through the rock solid home defence. The first major concern for Zaragoza came in the 23rd minute when Messi latched onto the end of a fine team move, leaving his marker Diogo in his wake but only to see his final shot saved by keeper César. Zaragoza preferred to play the ball wide, constantly seeking out D’Alessandro with long balls, but none of this ever looked like troubling the always attentive Valdés.
Both sides were wearing each other down, and it was difficult to split the two by the time of the half-time break. Moreover, the game failed to find any kind of regular pace, and the constant interruptions appeared to be causing more and more frustration to the Barcelona players.
Change of tactics
Rijkaard went back to the drawing board and came out with an entirely different game plan in the second half. Zambrotta replaced Márquez and the team reverted to its usual 4-3-3 system. This helped the defence find a little more consistency, and Barça’s first major chance of the half arrived in the 52nd minute with a Giuly effort from the edge of the area.
Diego Milito on target
Barça were creating considerably more danger than they had in the first 45 minutes, but just as Víctor Fernández was preparing to bolster his midfield by bringing on Movilla, the deadlock was broken in Zaragoza’s favour. In the 56th minute, D’Alessandro crossed from the left to find Diego Milito, who outwitted Puyol and Valdés to slot the ball in the back of the net.
Barcelona needed to react quickly, and they did. Deco had an excellent left-footed opportunity, but César intervened well, and then a series of consecutive chances fell to Messi and Gudjohnsen in the six-yard box following a terrific team move, but the ball inexplicably rebounded back off the woodwork. There was just a quarter of an hour left, and Zaragoza were fretting as Barça gained more and more territory down the wings.
Fight to the end
Barça kept at it until the final whistle. Balls were hurled time after time into the area, looking to find Gudjohnsen but getting no reward. Amazingly, Zaragoza only had one major chance in the entire second half, and that resulted in Diego Milito scoring the only goal of the night. Barça stay top of the league for now, but all that could change on Sunday when Sevilla face Racing Santander at the Sánchez Pizjuán.
Luis Medina Cantalejo will the referee for FC Barcelona's game against Real Zaragoza this weekend. The Andalucian official is a veteran of la Primera as he started out in 1998-99. He was also the ref for the Copa del Rey game in La Romareda earlier this season, which Barça won. Curiously, of the 11 matches that he has refereed in this season in the Spanish first division, none of them have ended in victory for the home team, with six draws and five away wins.
The trip to Real Zaragoza on Saturday evening is one of the most complicated matches that FC Barcelona have remaining this season as Frank Rijkaard's side continue their pursuit of a third consecutive league title.
Barça will looking to extend their lead in the encounter in La Romareda (20:00, Barça TV). With ten
matches remaining, this encounter is one of the most testing on paper that the Blaugrana will face.
The aim will be a repeat performance of the Copa del Rey quarter final, second leg from last month
as well as to send a message out to the other three sides involved in the championship race.
Three absentees: Rijkaard will be without three first team regulars for the game against Zaragoza as Thiago Motta injured his ankle in training on Thursday and has been ruled out for at least ten days, while Samuel Eto'o and Juliano Belletti are both also left out after being declared unfit on Friday after picking up knocks.
Three return: The good news for Barça is that three players are also set to make their comebacks. Deco, Rafa Márquez and Javier Saviola all missed the victory over Deportivo last weekend, but are back in the reckoning, Deco has recovered from an injury to his finger, that required surgery last month, while Márquez was rested after extensive travelling to play in international friendlies with Mexico and Saviola missed out after being rested for the game.
Rijkaard warning: In the pre-match press conference, Rijkaard warned about the dangers that Zaragoza pose and how his side will have to be totally focussed. The Dutchman ensured that there was no doubt about how important this match will be: "They are a very dangerous side," he said. "They have a lot of very strong players and have been very consistent this season."
One missing: Zaragoza have only one injury doubt as Sergio Fernández has a muscle pull. Coach Víctor Fernández should have the rest of his squad available to choose from. Up front, Diego Milito will be looking to add to the 18 goals that he has already scored this season and, once again, he will be supported by a creative line-up with Andrés D'Alessandro, Pablo Aimar, Alberto Zapater, Óscar and Sergio García. That talent and ability to make chances and produce attacking football has been one of the keys to the Aragón-based side's success this in the league term as they have exceeded expectations by challenging for a Champions League place.
Previous encounters: Barça's last two league visits to La Romareda have ended in victory for the visitors as they won 1-4 and 0-2. This season has also seen the Blaugrana triumph at the stadium as goals from Xavi and Andrés Iniesta saw Rijkaard's team win through to the semi finals of the Copa del Rey. In the last ten games between the teams on Zaragoza's ground, FC Barcelona have won five, drawn twice and lost on three occasions.