Liga - Barcelona close gap on Real with win over Almeria

La Liga, Camp Nou - Barcelona 4 (Sanchez 9', Messi 24', Puyol 83', Xavi 89') Almeria 1 (Trujillo 27')

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Liga - Barcelona close gap on Real with win over Almeria
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Barcelona's Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Sergio Busquets celebrate a goal against Almeria during their Spanish first division soccer match at Camp Nou

Barcelona moved to within a point of La Liga table toppers Real Madrid with a somewhat nervy 4-1 win over Almeria.

The result made the most of the 2-2 draw in the Madrid derby earlier on Sunday, with the Catalans moving ahead of Atletico Madrid in the league standings and to within a point of their Clasico rivals.

However, the Camp Nou side had to wait until the final 10 minutes of the match to fully impose their dominance on the scoreline, netting twice to put the gloss on the result.

The Catalans took the lead after just nine minutes, when Alexis Sanchez followed up a rebound from Cesc Fabregas’ initial shot to finish into the empty Almeria net.

And Barcelona were soon 2-0 up, with Lionel Messi curling a trademark free kick from 20 yards into the top corner, with a flailing Esteban Andres Suarez left helpless.

However, Almeria halved the deficit just before the half hour mark, when Angel Trujillo exposed Barca’s weakness from set piece to head home a corner with Victor Valdes in no man’s land.

Barca toiled at times in the second half but finally secured the win with a third goal, when Carles Puyol finished from close range after Messi’s header from a corner had struck the bar.

And Xavi put the gloss on the result with a wonderful curled effort from the edge of the box, finding the bottom corner of Esteban’s net with aplomb.

KEY EVENTS

9’ GOAL – Barca take the lead within 10 minutes. Fabregas' shot from the edge of the box is saved by Esteban but Alexis is on hand to finish into the empty net.

25’ GOAL – Wonderful goal by Messi! He's just curled a trademark freekick from 20 yards into the top corner. The keeper could get nowhere near it!

28’ GOAL – The visitors have a goal back! The defender is unmarked from a corner and powers a header into the net with Valdes in no man's land!

50’ CHANCE – Xavi picks out Neymar, who once again has taken up a free position on the left side of the front three. But the Brazilian scuffs his shot into the ground and Esteban saves gratefully. What a pass that was.

63’ SAVE – Good save by Valdes! Almeria find space on the left side, overloading Alves, but when the ball breaks back to Vidal he shoots straight at the Barca keeper. A yard either side of him and the home side would have been in trouble.

84’ GOAL – Finally, Barca have the third goal! Messi hits the bar with a header from a corner kick and Puyol is on hand to turn home the rebound with the keeper missing.

89’ GOAL - The scoreline is now looking how it should have looked a long time ago! Xavi curls in a wonderful shot from the edge of the box, finding the bottom corner.

KEY STATS

Lionel Messi has won his 200th La Liga game as a Barcelona player. He has played 265 games overall.

In their 325th game playing together, Carles Puyol and Xavi scored in the same game for the first time against Almeria.

Messi has equalled Cesar’s record of 126 for most Liga home goals for Barcelona.

TALKING POINT – Why does something still not feel right at Barca?

On the face of it Barca are flying under Martino. They’re in the Copa Del Rey final, likely to be in the Champions League quarterfinals and now within a point of the top of La Liga. But the Catalans toiled for much of the game tonight, despite the eventual 4-1 scoreline. There were even whistles from the Camp Nou crowd. Something’s just not right with Barca right now, even if it doesn’t translate into results and league tables.

MAN OF THE MATCH – Xavi

The Barcelona midfielder was best to his best in a game he dictated and controlled from his position in the centre of the pitch. His goal was a wonderful way to cap an exceptional performance by the 34 year old.

PLAYER RATINGS

Barcelona – Valdes 5, Alves 6, Puyol 7, Mascherano 5, Adriano 5, Busquets 5, Xavi 8, Fabregas 6, Sanchez 7, Neymar 6, Messi 7. Subs – Iniesta 6, Pedro 6.

Almeria – Esteban 7, Rafita 5, Trujillo 6, Torsiglieri 5, Dubarbier 4, Verza 5, Corona 4, Vidal 7, Azeez 6, Jonathan 7, Rodri 3. Subs – Tebar 4, Barbosa 2.

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