Barcelona ensured they remained at the summit of La Liga tonight with a 3-1 victory over a resilient Xerez side.
The league leaders needed to put the pressure on rivals Real Madrid, who play later this evening against Real Zaragoza, and they didn't disappoint. Two first half goals from Jeffren and Thierry Henry got them off to a comfortable start, however La Liga's bottom club, Xerez, just wouldn't back down and went in 2-1 down at half-time.
Xerez hounded Barca early in the second half, having one goal ruled out for offside. Just before the hour Barcelona effectively killed the game off when Zlatan Ibrahimovic slotted home from close range to extend their lead back to four points.
The big news before the game started was that Lionel Messi would not be in the starting line-up. The Argentine was rested with the Champions League game in mind against Inter next week.
The game started with both teams looking to get forward but trying not to leave gaps in behind. A fine pass by Ibrahimovic from wide on the left was blocked out by the Xerez defence.
The first real chance of the game fell to Armenteros for Xerez. Henry fouled Perez Francis with a horrible tackle from behind. Fortunately for the Frenchman he avoided a booking. The resulting cross was initially cleared by Ibrahimovic and dropped nicely to Armenteros, who took one touch to set himself and a second fine block from Ibra denied the Argentinian.
Xerez were doing their best to allow as little time as possible on the ball for Barcelona all the way to the back four. Xavi picked out a superb pass, splitting three players and Henry latched on it, one-on-one with the goalkeeper but the Frenchman couldn't get enough power on his shot and it was comfortable for Renan.
Just three minutes later the vision of Xavi was jaw-dropping once again. A pin point pass this time down the right found Jeffren. The young forward slipped and some how breakdanced his way back to his feet turning the Xerez full-back Casado. He closed in on goal, and found the target from a tight angle with a bullet finish to the top corner.
Xerez responded quickly and very nearly to great effect. A another free kick conceded by Henry down the right was cleverly disguised to Bermejo. The Xerez forward met the cross with a crisp volley on target but his own player blocked his effort in front of goal.
Barcelona then went on to double their lead on 24 minutes. Another great pass this time by Seydou Keita slid Ibrahimovic in to the box. The big Swede squared the ball to Henry, who was left with a simple finish.
This time Xerez's response was immediate. A poor pass by Dmytro Chygrynskiy was intercepted and Orrellana found Bermejo bounding in on goal in space and this time his finish flew in to the roof of the net.
It was really end to end stuff with no more than half an hour on the clock. Rafa Marquez almost restored the two goal cushion with a fizzing free kick that was inches away from the top corner with Renan beaten in the Xerez goal.
The last action of the half was Jeffren showing some incredible pace over about 30 metres. He found Yaya Toure who couldn't quite squeeze the ball through to Ibrahimovic.
Xerez began the second half with a different formation, pushing one extra player into the midfield. With barely a minute on the clock, Valdes kicked straight to Orellana who composed himself and fired his shot. It was blocked by Valdes and Bermejo hit the rebound in the net but was clearly offside.
Just one minute later a perfect cross was met by Bermejo about eight yards from the goal but Valdes read the situation well and had the header covered quickly.
After 50 minutes Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique were introduced, with Xerez giving everything back at Barcelona from the first half.
After 56 minutes Ibrahimovic deservedly got himself on the scoresheet. The introduction of Messi sparked Barcelona into fifth gear. A neat interchange by Barca around the box eventually found Yaya Toure on the left who slid the ball across the box for the Swedish international to finish in to the bottom corner.
Toure himself almost got himself a goal in the 69th minute. The ball was worked to the midfielder at the edge of the area and he blasted his shot wide.
Xerez continued to try and fight for a foothold in the second half but the passing from Barcelona was precise and testing the fatigued opposition.
There was a real moment of magic in the final ten minutes as Ibrahimovic's deft touch through the middle of the Xerez centre backs found Messi. The little forward delicately chipped the ball over the on rushing keeper in to the vacant net but he was just offside.
Xavi and Toure dominated the midfield for Barcelona in the final minutes and made sure there was no nervy situations. A free kick in a dangerous position for Messi was on target but was easy for Renan.
In the last minute Xerez were reduced to ten men with Alustiza seeing red for a hack on Messi. Shortly after Orellana saw another red for Xerez for an off the ball kick on Bojan.
Xerez certainly made Barcelona work tonight and with better finishing could have made this game closer. If Xerez had scored Barcelona looked like they always could have gone up another gear to find a goal.
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