Barcelona kicked off 2012 the way they finished 2011: with goals.
On the back of a 4-0 FIFA Club World Cup Championship victory over Santos and a 9-0 demolition of C.E. L’Hospitalet to wrap up a memorable 2011, Barcelona returned to action without missing a beat, defeating Osasuna 4-0 at the Camp Nou in their first match of the new year.
The reigning champions of 2011 looked determined to make a statement for 2012, running away with an easy victory over Osasuna in their Copa del Rey round of 16 fixture.
Guardiola fielded a somewhat handicapped starting eleven for the match, with Messi and Valdes both suffering from the flu, Iniesta injured, Villa out indefinitely with a broken leg, and Alexis battling jetlag.
It would not matter, as the 3-1-4-2 that took the field dominated from start to finish. Look for this formation to become the norm for 2012, as it has proven unstoppable all season long.
Alves, Thiago, Xavi, Busquets and Cesc flooded the midfield, establishing totalitarian rule in both possession and chances created.
Xavi and Cesc would emerge as the first half heroes, with the ex-Arsenal captain bagging two goals in the opening 18 minutes.
A wonderful cross-field pass from Thiago to Dani Alves saw the Brazilian take on his defender on the right wing before laying off a pass to Xavi just outside the area. As the defense converged on the Catalan captain, he unleashed a perfectly weighted pass to Fabregas, who sent a first touch shot curling past the keeper and into the bottom right corner of the net.
Just four minutes later he would secure a brace. After settling into his false nine position, with his back to the defense, a well-spotted pass by Xavi allowed Fabregas to turn his marker and finish with a sensational, audacious chip over the keeper from ten yards out.
The constant movement of Pedro and Cuenca on the wings kept the Osasuna defense honest, allowing more space to operate in the midfield and a bevy of chances to fall for the Catalans.
The three-man backline of Puyol, Pique and Mascherano, deployed as a left-back, were rarely troubled, snuffing out any counter-attacking opportunities for the visitors.
Osasuna keeper, Riesgo, did well to keep the game at two before the halftime whistle, denying Thiago in the 22nd minute before twice parrying away menacing shots from Pedro. Carles Puyol wasted a glorious chance to add his name to the score sheet moments later, shanking his effort high and wide when open in front of goal. However, holding onto a two-goal advantage and being a true defender, he should be forgiven for the miss, all things considered.
Barcelona continued to apply the same asphyxiating pressure in the second half before Guardiola reached for his ace in the hole, bringing in Leo Messi in the 58th minute to kill the match.
Pedro made way for the Argentine who took the pitch like a hurricane, sweeping aside the Osasuna defense to score two goals in the final thirty minutes of play.
Flu-like symptoms, stomach pains, jetlag — nothing could stop Messi. With the crowd echoing his name, la pulga rose to the occasion. Like Michael Jordan’s signature flu-game in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, ambition and total devotion carried Messi forward and elevated him to mythical status.
A quick give-and-go with Dani Alves inside the area nearly saw Messi score in the 58th minute, only for Leo’s chipped shot to skip off the slick grass and land inches wide of the far post.
A series of mesmerizing passes between the Argentine and Xavi allowed Messi to break through the Osasuna defense minutes later before being handled in the area and impeded through multiple tugs of the jersey. Somehow the ref declined to give the penalty, but it would matter little.
In the 73rd minute it became a three-goal advantage, as Messi rose high to connect onto the end of Fabregas’ cross and blast home the header from eight yards out.
An impossible reaction save by Riesgo denied Messi in the 76th before the Argentine completed the route in the 90th minute, cutting onto his favored left and sending a curling strike from 18-yards out past Riesgo at the far post, taking his tally to 31 goals in all competitions this season.
Messi would finish with two goals, joining Fabregas (two goals, one assist) and Xavi (three assists) as one of the men of the match.
Osasuna have now been outscored 12-0 in two games at the Camp Nou this year. It’s a result that proves to be more indicative of Barcelona’s home-field dominance than an indictment of Osasuna, as Barca have thrashed opponents by a staggering 53-0 advantage since conceding their last goal on September 13th, 2011 to Thiago Silva and AC Milan.
Since then, they have responded with victories over Osasuna (8-0), Atlético (5-0), Racing (3-0), Viktoria (2-0), Mallorca (5-0), Zaragoza (4-0), Rayo (4-0), Levante (5-0), Bate Borisov (4-0), C.E. L’Hospitalet (9-0), and Osasuna again (4-0). A total of over 900 minutes in game time has passed since that last-gasp Thiago Silva header back in the fall of 2011.
As their imperious home form continues, all looks to be set for a Copa del Rey quarterfinal showdown between Barcelona and Madrid.
Get ready to see plenty of fireworks in 2012.
Article written by Barcaloco contributor Anson Woodring. Follow Anson on Twitter at @ansonwoodring.
Full match highlights: