Misfiring Barça still stroll to Plzen win
Barcelona had to settle for just two goals despite battering Plzen in a predictably one-sided UEFA Champions League clash at the Nou Camp tonight.
Andres Iniesta and David Villa scored at either end of a game in which the hosts could have got close to double figures had they taken their full quota of chances. Lionel Messi twice hit the post on a night when he left the Plzen defence punch-drunk, but was simply unable to find an accurate finish, often guilty of over-playing, while the visitors defended at times as though their lives depended on it.
Barça's win moved them on to seven points, level with AC Milan at the top of Group H - the two top places all but sewn up already. The Spanish champions started quickly and Dani Alves should have put them in front, but he fired over the bar when through on goal. In the 10th minute they were ahead, and in some style, as Iniesta played two one-touch one-twos with Messi and, having got the ball back for the final time, flicked it inside a defender and slid a low finish inside the near post.
The holders were playing with their usual swagger as they threatened to overwhelm their opponents, but the finishing touch was missing more often than not. Villa curled a 25-year-effort wide, while Messi reached the Spain forward's low ball into the area just ahead of his marker but, with little time to steady himself, dinked his shot straight at the chest of goalkeeper Marek Cech.
Pedro had a shot deflected wide with Cech diving the other way and Messi's aim was off again, bringing Sergio Busquets' flicked pass out of the air and turning inside a defender on the byline before pulling his shot into the side netting from a tight angle. The Argentinian then curled a 30-yard free-kick which crashed back off a post as the Czechs survived until half-time just one goal behind.
Messi continued to be the main threat and he dribbled into the Plzen area, stayed on his feet when he was caught by sliding tackle from David Bystron, and the barged through two more challenges before being crowded out. The 24-year-old was leading the visitors' defence on a merry dance, beating three players as he raced down the right and somehow kept the ball in play as he cut in along the byline before clipping a shot against the outside of the post.
He was enduring a rare frustrating night, though, just failing to connect with Alves' ball flashed across the face of goal. There was a worry for Barça, too, when Messi required treatment after taking a heavy hit to his Achilles, but he was okay to carry on.
Villa finally doubled Barça's lead in the 82nd minute, guiding home a loose ball after Messi had taken too long over his shot and been barged off the ball. Pedro might have made it three at the death only to pass up the chance to shoot, instead looking to lay the ball off to Villa for a tap-in, but his pass was too strong and the chance passed.