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January 5, 2014
• Camp Nou, Barcelona
Referee: David Fernandez Borbalan
• Attendance: 64031
A. Sánchez 7', 63', 69'
That's all that we have time for, we hope that you have enjoyed live coverage of Barcelona's 4-0 home win against Elche, which sees Blaugrana re-take top spot ahead of Atletico Madrid. I've been Simon Harrison, and I hope to see you all again next time.
A hat-trick for Alexis Sanchez, with his free-kick the pick of the bunch, wraps up the three points for Tata Martino's men, with the Chilean provoking a rare smile from his coach. Pedro grabbed the other, as the two wingers continue to score in the absence of Lionel Messi.
FULL TIME! Albacar fires a free-kick miles over the bar, and the referee halts proceedings. Barcelona run out as 4-0 winners, regaining their place on top of La Liga, with a healthy addition to their goal difference. Elche tried to be brave in the face of the champions, but they were outclassed.
90' + 2'
Elche are given a brief spell of possession, ending the game as they started it, with some ambition. They've been outclassed, but certainly won't leave Camp Nou feeling as though they're going to finish the season battling to stay out of the relegation zone.
Two minutes of stoppage time have been awarded.
The final few minutes are going to be stop-start, as Barcelona are fouled cynically by an Elche side that have had enough. Bartra is thrown into the false nine position, with Alex Song dropped back to centre-half as he's picked up a knock.
Neymar is clipped on the edge of the box, but chooses to stay on his feet, before being dispossessed by Mantecon. That could have been another penalty for the home side, but the referee isn't interested. He appears sympathetic towards Elche, but that wasn't a stonewall penalty.
Yellow Card Rubén Pérez
Quite how Botia has managed to remain on this pitch is baffling. The central defender gave away the first penalty, which was surely denying a goal-scoring opportunity, before hacking down Iniesta. A certain penalty, and Elche can feel fortunate that they aren't further behind.
PENALTY SHOUT! Iniesta is bundled to the ground by Botia, much to the distaste of the home fans and players alike. The Elche defender takes Iniesta's legs away from underneath him, but the referee appears to want to show the visiting side some sympathy.
Barcelona are happy to keep the ball, as always, with Elche making only a half-hearted attempt to win it back. They've not played badly, and Escriba can certainly take a few positives from the game. Boakye has looked fairly dangerous as a lone striker, for instance.
Ten minutes is left to play, and Barcelona have wrapped up this game in style. Alexis' free kick caps a great performance from the hosts, despite them only playing at half-pace. Neymar returns to the field of play, with Barcelona's wealth of quality options again raising its head.
PEDRO! The winger tries his luck yet again, but Tono is able to collect his effort easily. Neymar is being given his instructions on the bench, and is ready to take his place on the field. Presumably, he'll receive a great reception, and he could do with a goal if he wants to fight for his first-team place.
Montoya is threaded in behind Albacar, but the youngster is forced back by the advances of the left-back. He's been a constant outlet for Barca, filling Dani Alves' boots rather well. He hasn't got the same attacking flair, but he definitely has the engine.
Despite Elche having great success from corners in their promotion last season, the away side have had no such luck this afternoon. Victor Valdes is off his line quickly to claim another of Albacar's deliveries.
Elche win a free-kick deep in the Barca half, but the delivery is easily cleared, allowing for the hosts to break with pace. Pedro is found on the left hand side in space, before cutting inside one challenge, but the goalscorer is dispossessed by the second. Wasteful, but they have the cushion they need already.
Yellow Card Jordi Alba
Yellow Card Cesc Fàbregas
Who knows who Tata Martino will leave out once Neymar and Messi return to full fitness! Pedro and Alexis have managed 31 goals between themselves in all competitions this season, allowing for Barca to maintain their momentum despite having a long injury list.
Twenty minutes left on the clock, and Elche probably want to make their way back to the team bus now! Alexis fills the void left by Messi to devastating effect, despite two being questionably offside. Barcelona are coasting to the summit of the league once more.
Goal Alexis Sánchez
WHAT A GOAL! ALEXIS SMASHES HOME A FREE-KICK! The Chile international dusts himself down after being fouled by Botia, before curling the dead ball into the top corner, leaving Tono with no chance. That's his hat-trick!
Yellow Card Botía
Terrible challenge from Botia, as the former Barcelona man hacks down Alexis with a very dangerous sliding attempt to win the ball. Somehow, despite Sapunaru giving away a penalty, that's the game's first yellow card.
The crowd are in good spirits, clapping Neymar as the returning Brazilian begins to warm up on the touchline. About half an hour left on the clock, and Elche are still choosing not to lie down and take a heavy defeat. Escriba replacing his holding midfielder with a more attacking option.
Now that the third goal has nestled in the back of Tono's net, Martino sees fit to ring the changes. Xavi is replaced by young Sergi Roberto, with the Argentine coach presumably wanting to rest his veteran captain. The home crowd are still having to wait to see Neymar.
Goal Alexis Sánchez
GOOOOOAL! ALEXIS CONVERTS TO MAKE IT 3-0! Hint of offside, as all of Elche's defensive line raise their hands and look to the linesman, but the goal stands. Brilliant ball from Iniesta to find Pedro, who squares unselfishly to allow his Chilean teammate to pass home.
Manu Del Moral
Boakye continues to look lively at the forefront of Elche's offensive intentions, spraying the ball out wide to Manu after a smart turn before getting into the box. The recent substitute centres the ball, but Pique beats his marker to it.
Both managers begin to look to their benches, as the second half has gone a little bit stale. Escriba looks to freshen up his side with an offensive chance, which is perhaps testament to how Barcelona are yet to kill this game off entirely.
PEDRO! The winger cuts in from the left, beyond curling a tantalising effort narrowly wide of the top corner. Elche continue to stubbornly press in Barcelona's half, with the hosts looking a little bit low on ideas. Sergi Roberto and Tello start to warm up, perhaps as a result.
Interestingly, that was only Xavi's second penalty attempt in La Liga history, and he'd missed the previous one too. Perhaps the captain should stick to spot-kick responsibilities in cup competitions!
Elche remain conscious that they don't want to turn into a visiting side who merely sits on the edge of their penalty area and prays, and push players forward. Boakye is found in isolation once again, before he gives the ball away with a loose pass, thinking that Fidel was overlapping.
BOAKYE! The Ghanaian cuts inside onto his stronger right foot once again, but cannons his eventual strike into a ruck of awaiting Barcelona players! The lone striker was set on his way by a long, hopeful ball, and Elche are showing that the hosts still need to put this game beyond doubt.
Barcelona are starting the second half as they began the first, keeping hold of the ball with ease, with Elche becoming a little more frustrated and petulant as time passes by. They've not had much in the way of chances or respite, so it's understandable.
PIQUE! The colossus had made his way forward for the home side, but was unable to put the finishing touch onto an arrowing ball from the right hand side from Xavi! So close for Barcelona, we could see Neymar coming on to add the clinical touch they're currently lacking.
Missed Penalty Xavi
XAVI MISSES! The Barcelona captain slots the ball narrowly wide of the post, failing to capitalise on the opportunity. If the Spain international had managed to get the strike on target, Tono would have probably had it covered anyhow, he'd dived full-stretch to his left hand side.
PENALTY FOR BARCELONA! Sapunaru hacks down Fabregas as the midfielder races through on Tono's goal, and there are no complaints from anybody on the visiting side. Barca can make it 3-0 here.
ALEXIS! The Chilean is penalised for a shove on Albacar at the back post, as he looks to challenge for a looping delivery that was cut back by Iniesta. Preceding this, Iniesta skipped between two defenders with a lovely scooped piece of skill.
We are back for second half action, as Barcelona look to improve on their goal difference in the second 45 minute installment. There isn't much difference between Barcelona and Atletico, and this league season could come down to fine margins. The more goals today, the better.
Be sure to rejoin the action in ten minutes, as Tata Martino's men look to be on course to make their way back up to the top of La Liga. Even without Lionel Messi and Neymar on the field, the home side aren't struggling in terms of goals.
Alexis opened the scoring on seven minutes, before Pedro made it two shortly after. A two goal deficit appears to be a bridge too far for Elche, but Escriba's men have shown no fear this afternoon. Playing a high defensive line and attempting to hold onto the ball when they win it, the newly-promoted outfit are yet to disgrace themselves.
HALF TIME! The referee ends the half with merely seconds of stoppage time, but Elche won't mind too much. Barcelona are in a commanding 2-0 lead at the break, with the visitors striking the post and managing little else in terms of attack.
Pique opts to play his way out of trouble, pulling off a Cruyff turn on his own byline. A nice link to the fact that the last time these two sides met at Camp Nou in the league, the Dutch maestro was in charge of Blaugrana.
ALEXIS! The Chilean tries to slide a cheeky effort inside Tono's near post, after being picked out excellently by Pedro with a delicate chip. He tries to catch out the second choice goalkeeper, but he finds the side netting instead.
Jordi Alba concedes a free-kick after climbing on Carles Gil, but the delivery from Albacar is nodded away at the edge of the box. The rebound falls again to the specialist left-back, but his second intended cross is charged down.
Five minutes until the break, and the home crowd probably would welcome another goal to put this game beyond any doubt. Escriba may be pleased to have competed in the opening 45 minutes, but there is a sense that Barcelona are only in second-gear, with a somewhat second-string side.
Great work from Iniesta! The maestro skips around three challenges, before being robbed of possession by Ruben Perez. The midfielder can't hold back a smile after being tackled, showing how Barca really are enjoying this game - it's almost like a training match.
The wall comes to the rescue for Elche on two occasions, denying Pique and Iniesta from making it three for the home side. All of the visiting side were behind the ball there, but they did just enough to keep Barca at bay.
PASSBACK! Indirect free kick inside Elche's penalty area for the hosts, as Tono collects a ball which was helped on by one of his central defenders. He had no option, if he didn't claim the loose ball, Alexis was lurking.
INIESTA! Good save from Tono! Pedro is picked out on the left hand side, cutting back inside after shaping to shoot. He slips the ball inside to Iniesta, who takes aim from just inside the Elche penalty area, but the playmaker is denied by a flailing Tono limb.
Nearly ten minutes until the break, and Elche's fans won't be too upset with what they've seen thus far. Though they've no hope of getting back into this game, they've shown that they're willing to pass the ball around in the face of a side who have revolutionised football.
Half an hour into proceedings, and Elche continue to be plucky in the face of Barcelona's quality line-up. The home side continue to keep the ball composedly, looking to thread the likes of Pedro and Alexis in behind the rather high visiting defensive line. Escriba is clearly conscious of not being forced back to the edge of his side's penalty area.
PEDRO! He loops an inventive effort narrowly over Tono's crossbar, with the Elche goalkeeper having his angles covered. A strange attempt from the goalscorer, who could have tried to volley a striker towards goal with force, but instead opted for a finish that would have had to be inch-perfect.
Credit to Elche, the Valencian side are trying to play the ball around the park, but their execution isn't anywhere near as good as their opponents. The hosts are playing essentially without a recognised striker, with Alexis and Pedro looking to stretch the Elche defensive line on the wings.
FABREGAS! The Spanish midfield curls an effort narrowly wide of the far post, with Tono merely a spectator. That was almost a sublime finish by the former Arsenal midfielder, but it just wasn't to be.
Montoya bombs down the right flank yet again, but the youngster is unable to put in a useful cross, looping the delivery straight towards Sapunaru. The visitors are attempting to break with pace to test Barcelona, but the hosts continue to dominate.
The likes of Pique, Bartra and Song are being given plenty of time on the ball, as Elche continue to stay in their shape. To a point, it's working, as they've managed to make several good interceptions. Then again, they're already facing a two-goal deficit. Escriba is certainly showing no fear, that much is certain.
Elche are being brave despite falling behind so early on against a great side, and Escriba's outfit are persevering in their use of a rather high line. As shown by Pedro's goal, where the Spain international timed his run to perfection to exploit the space in behind the Elche line, this approach might be somewhat suicidal.
Albacar hoofs clear as Alexis almost finds a pocket of space inside the area, after an uncharacteristically poor touch from Iniesta. At times, this game is like a training exercise, with Barca able to carve apart the opposition seemingly at will.
The first 20 minutes have proved comfortable for Martino's men, as Atletico's stay at the top of La Liga already looks rather short-lived. Two goals from two men that have proved vital in Messi's absence, are showing their worth once again during the new year.
Good header from Botia, as the Spaniard gets across at the near post to nod a cross away from its intended target of Iniesta. The Elche man was previously on the books of Barca, leaving the club back in 2009. He won't be adding this to his list of fond memories thus far.
Barcelona now have a two goal cushion, and those spectators who may have feared after Boakye's effort struck the woodwork can relax once more. This game is already at threat of not really being a contest whatsoever, as many may have predicted.
Assist Cesc Fàbregas
GOOOOOAL! BARCELONA LEAD 2-0! Pedro with the goal, as the diminutive winger continues his excellent goalscoring form this season. He is played in behind Botia by Fabregas, before slotting a smart finish beyond Tono's grasp.
Good interception from Lomban! The centre-half gets his head on the end of a scooped through ball, denying Alexis from getting in behind. Elche have startled the home side somewhat here, that was an excellent move from a side that aren't set up to solely sit back.
BOAKYE! HE STRIKES THE POST! A lovely, flowing move from Elche! A good ball down the left hand side finds Fidel, who slides the ball infield to the Ghanaian. He takes a touch before smashing a strike off the outside of Valdes' near post!
Barcelona continue to pull the strings, and this game has settled down nicely. Lionel Messi and Ibrahim Afellay sit together in the stands, perhaps glad that their absence isn't having an effect on proceedings this afternoon. The hosts look strong, with Elche enjoying possession sparingly.
In terms of opening ten minutes go, Martino will be pleased. Pedro and Alexis have looked threatening down the flanks, and his side have already found the breakthrough goal. Alexis is almost able to ghost in behind Elche's lines, but the through ball finds its way back to Tono.
Well, that didn't take long. Escriba would have hoped that his side could hang in this game for a while, perhaps long enough to threaten from a free-kick or corner, but it wasn't to be. An excellent assist from Jordi Alba to allow Barcelona to kick off 2014 with some momentum.
Assist Jordi Alba
Goal Alexis Sánchez
GOOOOOAL! ALEXIS SCORES BARCA'S FIRST GOAL OF 2014! The Chilean is found at the back post to slot the ball home, as the hosts move the ball around with consummate ease. He makes a good run in behind Edu Albacar, and is found by a brilliant cross from Jordi Alba!
Good punch by Valdez! Albacar's set piece delivery is excellent as always, but the returning goalkeeper is alert to the danger, and the fact that the visitors will only bare their fangs from dead ball situations - in all likeliness.
It's a lovely afternoon in Barcelona, with the afternoon sun beating down on a perfect pitch. Elche are yet to threaten in this game, but win the first corner of the match, as Alex Song is forced to deflect Niguez's cross out for a corner.
Barca start the game as many would have expected, keeping possession well inside the opposition half, with Pique and Bartra being left with no striker to trouble them. Elche are here to hold out and survive the hosts' siege.
ALEXIS! The Chilean is slightly offside, but forces a good move out of Tono in the Elche net. Barcelona are already exerting their dominance from the opening minutes. This could be a long afternoon for Elche.
We are underway in the first half! A win is required for Barcelona to head back to the top of the table, and lowly Elche stand in their way. The visitors show their intent from the start, packing their half with bodies.
There will be a moment of reflection before the game kicks off, in memory of one of football's greats, Eusebio. The Portuguese forward passed away today at the age of 71, scoring 733 times in 745 professional games. He will always be remembered in football, and rightly so.
It's impossible for Barcelona to win and not reinstate themselves at the top of the La Liga pile, so Tato Martino's men will only have one aim for the afternoon. Given their home record, and the quality on show today, winning shouldn't be an issue. Elche could do with a share of the spoils, but Escriba will know that his side will have to put in a world-class performance to avoid defeat.
Atletico took top spot in La Liga after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Malaga at La Rosaleda, throwing the gauntlet down for Barcelona to match their three point haul. Los Rojiblancos are determined to push Barcelona all the way this season, and three points against struggling Elche is the perfect way for Barca to kick off the new year.
Elche haven't been present here since the days of Johann Cruyff, and the visitors will certainly have to call upon all of their talents and energy to get a favourable result against Martino's steamrolling Barca. Back in 1989, Jose Mari Bareko and Guillermo Amor picked up the goals for Blaugrana, in a comfortable 2-0 league victory.
Elche substitutes: Mantecon, Manu, Javi Marquez, Sergio Pelegrin, Cisma, Cristian Herrera, Marc Martinez.
Elche starting line-up: Tono; Sapunaru, Botia, Lomban, Edu Albacar; Aaron Niguez, Sanchez, Ruben Perez, Fidel, Carles Gil; Boakye.
Barcelona substitutes: Pinto, Neymar, Puyol, Mascherano, Tello, Adriano, Sergi Roberto.
Barcelona starting line-up: Valdes; Montoya, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Song, Iniesta, Xavi; Pedro, Fabregas, Alexis.
TEAM NEWS: Elche's first-choice goalkeeper Manu Herrera is sidelined through injury and hasn't travelled with Fran Escriba's side, placing Tono in the firing line for a tough test this afternoon. Richmond Boakye will presumably be the lone striker for the visitors, with the likes of Carles Gil and Aaron Niguez supporting the Ghanaian whenever Elche break out of their own half.
TEAM NEWS: No Lionel Messi, Dani Alves, Ibrahim Afellay and Isaac Cuenca for the host, with Sergio Busquets serving a suspension. Alex Song comes into holding midfield, with Cesc Fabregas seemingly being deployed between the prongs of Alexis and Pedro in attack. Neymar can only take a seat on the Blaugrana bench after returning to first team action.
I'm Simon Harrison, and I will be keeping you up to date with proceedings from Barcelona, as Elche attempt to leave the fortress of Camp Nou unscathed, an outcome which seems unlikely. Though they sit in 15th place, no wins in their last five games is a worrying statistic for the Valencian outfit, who could find themselves slip into the relegation zone with the likes of Almeria recovering strongly.
Hello and welcome to afternoon La Liga action, as newly-promoted Elche start 2014 with a tough away visit to Camp Nou, all without their starting goalkeeper Manu Herrera. Tata Martino's side can make it 24 straight wins at home should they take the three points today, but they'll have to do it without Lionel Messi, as the Argentine star is still sidelined through injury.
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