Boost for Barcelona ahead of Milan clash

Posted by Francesc Tomas

David Ramos/Getty ImagesCarles Puyol's Barcelona returned to their winning ways thanks to the defense, which recorded its first clean sheet in 13 matches.

Barcelona achieved a valuable 2-0 win against Deportivo La Coruna at the Camp Nou in Matchday 27 of La Liga. Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi scored the goals for the Blaugrana, which enjoyed 71 percent of possession, created 12 goal-scoring chances and attempted 12 shots, seven of them on target.

This result helps the Catalans keep their comfortable lead at the top of the table for yet another week.

This was a match that the always demanding Cules had been anxiously awaiting since the referee signaled the final whistle at the Bernabeu. Since last Saturday, the Madrid-based press had been spreading their "The end of an era," "Dominance is over" and other debatable headlines all over the media, and honestly, the absence of a Barcelona match in midweek to prove critics wrong has made the past seven days unbearable.

With the upcoming Champions League clash against AC Milan just three days away, it was clear that interim manager Jordi Roura -- with the distant support of Tito Vilanova via phone from New York City -- would finally rotate his squad and give the core of the team a much-needed rest against the last-place team in the La Liga table.

Barcelona seemed to recover some of their missing spark, especially during the high-tempo first half. With top goal-scorer Messi benched for only the fourth time this season, the attacking responsibility fell on David Villa, Alexis and Cristian Tello. While the three forwards performed at a good level, it was the severely criticised Chilean who stood out the most, looking like a much closer version of his former electric, determined self.

All in all, another positive result, which takes the Blaugrana one step closer to regaining the La Liga crown. Considering their momentary 13-point advantage over second-place Atletico de Madrid with 11 matches to be played, many argue the league is already over and, wrongly, are beginning to take this hypothetical success as a given.

I find such attempts to devalue Barcelona's merit infuriating. If the club manages to win the Spanish league, which is not a certainty, the players, coaches, fans and media must recognise it as a major achievement and the culmination of a job well done throughout an entire season.

Either way, the relentless Blaugrana calendar forces us to focus on the Champions League, the competition where small details, rather than overall regularity, have the final say. The poor 2-0 defeat at the San Siro left the team with a mountain to climb, but if the players can build on the improved performance against Deportivo and excel while soaking in the unconditional support from the Blaugrana community, the dream of progressing into the next stage could come true.

Against Deportivo, the Catalans managed to keep their first clean sheet in 13 matches and would force extra time if they manage to repeat this result Tuesday. Sure, Messi scored his 40th La Liga goal and has scored in 17 consecutive matches in the competition, but saying that, it was the improved attitude and strength of the team as a whole that took Barcelona to victory.

Bring on AC Milan -- Tots Units Fem Forca!

Player Ratings (0-10; 10 = best)

Jose Manuel Pinto (7) -- Kept the long-awaited clean sheet with a decent performance. At 37 years and 121 days of age, he became the oldest player to ever play for Barcelona in the Spanish league, breaking Alexanco's record.

Dani Alves (8) -- A courageous display of strength and skill at both ends of the pitch. Assisted Alexis for Barcelona's opener with a delightful cross. Showed his teammates that, if the desire is there, this team has plenty to say in the future.

Adriano (6) -- Provided much-needed stability defensively and complemented the Blaugrana attack well with his generous effort from the wings.

Carles Puyol (7) -- Never beaten, he kept the Gallego strikers at bay with his leadership spirit, well-timed tackles and impeccable positioning.

Javier Mascherano (7) -- Solid, looked comfortable from beginning to end and solved any potentially dangerous situations effectively. Linked well with the midfielders from the back line.

Alex Song (6) -- Another convincing performance as holding midfielder. He will rarely grab headlines, but his work rate is admirable.

Cesc Fabregas (7) -- Much more mobile than in recent matches, always eager to make things happen. His finishing could have been better, but his influence and vision created some of the best chances for his teammates.

Thiago Alcantara (6) -- Capable of combining the most accurate of passes and delightful skills with the occasional clumsy mistake. Having said that, these rare inconsistencies in his game are becoming less frequent as his career develops and he is given more responsibility.

David Villa (6) -- The striker created many spaces with his constant desire to run behind the back line, often finding himself in goal-scoring positions. Didn't score, but that is football. Barcelona look more likely to find the net whenever he is near the rival area.

Cristian Tello (7) -- Gave the Blaugrana that extra freshness from the wings, often dribbling his marker or simply running past him with his blistering pace. Sure, his crossing wasn't always perfect, but given his age and lack of regular playing time, it is clear that this game was another step in the right direction.

Alexis Sanchez (8) -- Man of the Match -- After many below-par performances this season, it seemed as if the No. 9 was back to business at last. Scored the first Barcelona goal with a precise header, assisted Messi with a classy through pass for the second. Confident, incisive, aggressive. So happy for him.

Substitutes: Lionel Messi (8), Andres Iniesta (6), Sergio Busquets (6)

Have your say

What did you think of Barcelona's performance versus Deportivo? Who was your Man of the Match? What are your player ratings?

I welcome and appreciate all respectful feedback.

For more news and opinion on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas @Barcablog_com and Facebook; 33,000 Cules have already joined.

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