Sanchez and Pedro dispose of Elche

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Barcelona started the New Year with a 4-0 win over Elche, earning three points that were made to look easy in the Camp Nou on Sunday. With goals from Pedro and an Alexis Sanchez hat trick, it was the overall team performance that pleased most, as they once again proved that this side is not dependent on either Lionel Messi or Neymar, with both missing from the starting lineup.

- Report: Barcelona 4-0 Elche

With the pressure on after Atletico Madrid's 1-0 away win on Saturday in Malaga, Barca had to win to stay top of the table. The two sides remain level on points, with Barca five goals to the good, before they meet for the first time this season in the league Saturday night in the Spanish capital.

Perhaps an even more important loss on Sunday for Barca was that of Sergio Busquets, who was suspended, but Alex Song proved himself to be a more than capable stand-in and the only negative was central defender Marc Bartra limping off in the final minutes.

There was also the much anticipated return of Victor Valdes, who had little to do to keep a clean sheet and another impressive 90 minutes back for the fully recovered Jordi Alba. On the whole, it was a very positive day for Barca.

Manager Gerardo Martino will now have some thinking to do about a strategy to break down a hugely complicated Atletico side that has lost only once this season. With his two stars waiting in the wings and plenty of other players desperate for minutes in the side, the Argentinian has plenty of good problems about who to start in the Calderon. Both sides are now eight points ahead of Real Madrid, who must match the Barca and Atletico victories in the Santiago Bernabeu on Monday at home to Celta Vigo to stand a chance of remaining in the fight for La Liga title.

Sanchez showed from the first minute that he meant business when he had a good chance that was ruled offside, even though he appeared to be in a legal position. His first hat trick for the club will give himself a much-needed confidence boost ahead of more important games, and the headache for Martino now is how to make room for Messi and Neymar after the Chilean repeated Pedro's feat from the last game at Getafe.

Barca's opening goal on seven minutes was a thing of beauty and once again showed how important the presence of Xavi Hernandez is in the centre of the pitch for the Blaugrana.

Xavi picked out a rampaging Jordi Alba on the left, who -- while evading three defenders -- used two touches to feed Sanchez with a cross that simply required a poked finish from the Chilean.

Pedro continued where he finished off in 2013, with a quick-witted performance that included the second goal. That came as a gift from the boot of Fabregas, who left the Tenerife-born player with just the keeper to round on 16 minutes after a perfectly weighted through pass.

Pedro's goal made him Barca's top scorer for the season in all competitions with 15 goals (one more than Messi), while the assist from Fabregas was his ninth of the season in La Liga, making him tops in the league in that ever-important table of goal creators.

Elche had not completely appeared to be naive tourists at the Camp Nou until that point. Yiadom Boakye hit the post in the 14th minute, testing Valdes briefly in his welcomed return. It was Elche's first visit to Barcelona in 25 years, but from that point on, they never looked like improving on a record of 12 defeats and seven draws in their 19 visits.
Barca could have had a few more before the break with both Sanchez and Pedro close to adding to their tallies, but they would wait until the second half before putting Elche to bed.

Within two minutes in the second half they had a penalty when Elche Romanian full-back Ionat Sapunaru tripped Fabregas, who was clear on goal.

Xavi stepped up to amazingly take only his second career La Liga penalty and proceeded to shoot wide. He missed his first as well exactly 11 years ago, and that probably explains why he is not asked to take more spot kicks. The miss hardly seemed to affect the proceedings, however, as Barca completely dominated possession, and soon it was time for Sanchez to get his hat trick.

The second came when Iniesta and Pedro combined to leave the Chilean with an easy finish. That was then followed up by the goal that was far more special than the first two. It came via free kick that he perfectly arched over the wall and into the top right corner.

Shortly thereafter, he left the pitch to a huge ovation as he was replaced by Neymar. With the game won, Xavi was also rested with 25 minutes remaining as Sergi Roberto took over the reins in the centre of the pitch. With a Spanish cup game with Getafe on Wednesday, the skill with which Martino has to shuffle his deck will again be crucial before the top of the table clash in the Calderon.

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