A vital win for Barcelona in Zaragoza kept La Liga alive for the Catalans, following Real Madrid’s shock defeat at Real Betis earlier in the day. But it wasn’t the kind of victory that Frank Rijkaard would cherish. On their part, Barca did produce some of their trademark passing moves and slick one-touch creativity in the first half and deserved to go into the break with the 1-0 lead. The goal from Thierry Henry was exquisite. It was pretty reminiscent of his Arsenal days, more than any other goal he has scored for Barca.
The penalty was dubious, undoubtedly. Rijkaard remarked after the match that the handball seemed unintentional. But you couldn’t say that for sure, could you? Ronaldinho coolly slotted away the spot-kick to hand Barca the win. The Brazilian should have actually scored two, when he later missed a close-range shot after brilliantly controlling a Carles Puyol cross. On another day he would’ve put it away with ease, but that one missed effort was enough to tell us that he is still nowhere near the World-Player-of-the-Year-twice standards.
Victor Valdes was their saviour on many occasions yet again. His save from a Diego Milito effort was a telling statement about why he should wear the Spain colours sooner rather later. He has returned to his rock-solid best with some great performances in the last few games and that has given the Barcelona defence much-needed stability. Gabriel Milito produced a fine performance on his return to his former club. The best goal of the night did come from the home team though. Ricardo Oliveira’s tight-angled finish past an in-form Valdes was a classic aide memoire of his Real Betis days. Sergio Garcia’s pass to set up the goal was just as good.
A positive aspect of this hard-worked away win was that Barcelona can still produce some outstanding midfield engineering in the absence of Andres Iniesta, who has been fundamental to the team’s victories. Xavi and Deco were up for the game and Edmilson produced one of his best performances in a Barca shirt. The problem, once again, lies with the forwards. Lionel Messi’s form will give Rijkaard something to think for before the Celtic trip, as his game has been understood by most Spanish teams and you always have two-three players marking him down. Being the talent that he is, he still does create space and dribble through them but that has now become more occasional than regular.
Overall, it’s not a win that should open up a hot discussion regarding whether Barca deserved the points or not. They did put in much more of a show than last week. Zaragoza made their own mistakes when given the chances, like the Milito penalty. Barca did enough and a 5-point gap with 14 games to go is hope gained, not hope lost.