Record signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his 14th league goal of the season as champions Barcelona went back to the top of the Spanish league with a hard-fought 2-0 home victory over Osasuna at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Swede Ibrahimovic struck on 72 minutes to break Osasuna's resilience and substitute Bojan Krkic netted a second two minutes from time as Barça moved three points ahead of Real Madrid, in action at Getafe on Thursday, at the summit. The win maintained Barcelona's momentum for 'El Clasico' at Real Madrid on the weekend of 10/11 April and now the pressure is on Real to respond against Getafe.
Brazilian defender Dani Alves saluted goal hero Ibrahimovic who has had a lean spell in front of goal of late after starting the season so promisingly. "He (Ibrahimovic) lives for that (scoring goals) and when he scores he is happy," said Alves. "We are all happy for him and hope the run continues and the goals start coming again."
Osasuna were the last team to beat Barcelona at Camp Nou in the league on the penultimate day of last season, although they had already been crowned champions, and coach Pep Guardiola resisted the temptation to rest top-scorer Lionel Messi, scorer of successive league hat-tricks, with the Argentine joining Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry up front.
With two minutes gone a slick passing move gave Ibrahimovic a sight of goal and the Swede drilled in a low shot but Ricardo Lopez palmed the effort to safety. It was a frantic opening and Osasuna should have scored in the fourth minute when a neat move released Krisztian Valdocz but the Hungarian midfielder watched in agony as Victor Valdes turned away his fierce shot.
A Thierry Henry lob and a blocked Ibrahimovic shot was all Barça could muster in a disappointing scoreless first half against Osasuna, who drew 1-1 with the champions in Pamplona earlier in the campaign. Guardiola hauled off the disappointing Henry at half-time with Pedro Rodriguez, the latest youth team product, coming on in the Frenchman's place.
Pedro almost had an immediate impact producing a vintage pass in the 53rd minute but the onrushing Messi, who had scored in his last five games, couldn't arrive in time. Osasuna were being pushed back and Yaya Toure combined with Ibrahimovic five minutes later but Toure delayed his run into the box and it proved vital as the ball was just in front of him.
Substitute Seydou Keita went close with a header before Barça finally made the breakthrough on 72 minutes with Andres Iniesta releasing Maxwell to fizz a low cross in to give the alert Ibrahimovic an easy tap-in. The Swede was substituted almost immediately afterwards and his replacement Bojan got the second two minutes from time in a carbon copy of the first goal only this time Iniesta provided the cross.
Real Madrid make the short trip to neighbours Getafe seeking a tenth successive league win against a side that beat them 3-1 in the corresponding fixture last season.
Villarreal miss out
In other matches, Valencia notched a third straight win beating Malaga 1-0 at home to consolidate third position. David Villa scored the winner on 13 minutes for his 18th goal of the season as Valencia took advantage of slips from rivals Real Mallorca and Sevilla, who both drew, to strengthen their position. Valencia lie six points ahead of Real Mallorca, who drew 0-0 at Racing Santander, with Sevilla eight points behind in fifth. Elsewhere Villarreal missed the chance to close in on the top six with a 2-2 draw at struggling Tenerife and are five points off the top six.
On Tuesday Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez became the first high-profile casualty of the season when he was dismissed following a 1-1 draw at Xerez. Jimenez had guided Sevilla, two points behind Mallorca in fifth, to the Kings Cup final but a UEFA Champions League exit to CSKA Moscow combined with poor league form ended his two-and-a-half year tenure at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.