Barcelona brush aside Racing
Barcelona strolled to an easy victory over Racing Santander on a night of firsts at the Nou Camp. Despite missing several key players through injury and losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic just before the match, Pep Guardiola's side brushed aside a disappointing Racing side with ease, on the back of a fine first-half performance.
Andres Iniesta gave the Catalans the lead with his first goal of the season following poor defending by Racing after just seven minutes. Thierry Henry, handed a rare start by Guardiola after being frozen out in recent weeks, scored the second goal from a free-kick with his first of 2010, and Rafael Marquez added a brilliant third with his first of the campaign from another set-piece 11 minutes before half-time. Youngster Thiago Alcantara then added a fourth with his first career goal in the closing stages.
With Dani Alves and Eric Abidal missing through injury, captain Carles Puyol was switched to the right-back position. That move allowed Marquez and Gerard Pique, both available again after suspension, to start in central defence, while fit-again Yaya Toure was restored in the holding midfield role. Xavi and Seydou Keita were both out with injury, but it was a strong Barcelona midfield, with Toure lining up alongside Sergio Busquets and Iniesta.
Iniesta takes the initiative
Spain midfielder Iniesta got the home side off to an ideal start as he slotted home the opener. The move began from a long Marquez pass, which Racing full-back Jose Angel Crespo failed to clear under pressure from Henry. The loose ball fell to Iniesta, who gave Fabio Coltorti no chance with a slick finish.
It was his first goal since the dramatic late leveller at Stamford Bridge which enabled Barcelona to advance in incredible circumstances to the final of the UEFA Champions League. Without that goal, Barcelona would have been left without three of their six trophies in 2009. And Guardiola would not tonight have been coaching the club in his 100th competitive match, either.
Henry is another who has been short of goals recently. The former Arsenal man scored 19 and 26 goals in his first two seasons as a Barça player, respectively, but had just two for this campaign to his name prior to tonight. Struggling for form, the France striker has barely featured in recent weeks, but marked his return to the side with a welcome strike. It was rather lucky, as the Frenchman's free-kick found its way through a suspect defensive wall and into the back of the net.
Lionel Messi and Bojan Krkic, starting up front alongside Henry, had missed decent chances before that, and Barcelona were glad to extend their lead. Ibrahimovic, left out due to an ankle problem, probably with Tuesday night's UEFA Champions League tie against Stuttgart in mind, was hardly missed.
The goals were coming from elsewhere and Marquez, who had wanted the previous free-kick, got his chance to impress six minutes later. And how he delivered; the Mexico defender curled a sublime effort over the wall and in off the post to put Barça three up at the break.
Messi and Bojan missed further opportunities before the interval as Barça continued to dominate. The best Racing chance ironically fell to Henrique, on loan from the Catalans, but the Brazilian defender was off target with his header.
Minutes for youngsters
After the break, Barça took their feet off the pedal and Guardiola took advantage to send on several young players for some valuable game time. Pedro, Jeffren Suarez and Thiago all came on late in the game, and the latter marked the occasion with his first goal for the club.
Thiago, son of former Brazilian FIFA World Cup™ winner Mazinho, gave the ball to Messi, who returned it with interest for the youngster to beat Coltorti with a deflected effort that rounded off a great night for Barcelona.
Night of firsts
It was a night of firsts in Guardiola's 100th match in charge. Henry bagged his first goal in 2010, Thiago his first for the club, Iniesta and Marquez their first of the season. It was also Iniesta's 300th appearance. All of that leaves Barça very much in first as well, with the onus on Real Madrid to close the gap back to two points tomorrow, when they host Villarreal.
Racing, who were never really in the game and sorely missed suspended trio Pedro Munitis, Gonzalo Colsa and Mohamed Tchite, stay five points clear of the drop zone for now, but could find themselves closer to the bottom three tomorrow.