Another commanding performance from Barcelona FC continued the club's dominance in La Liga play with a 3-1 road triumph against upstart Real Valladolid. This fixture was definitely sentimental for Barca, who were without Tito Vilanova.
The manager underwent a surgical procedure to remove a cancerous tumor, which surely led to Barca playing with heavy hearts and passion in his honor.
Thankfully, Sky Sports expert analyst Guillem Balague tweeted great news about Vilanova just prior to the match:
Tito has been released from hospital as we speak. Good news before the Valladolid-Barcelona (SS4HD)— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) December 22, 2012
Despite reigning supreme atop the La Liga standings with zero losses and only one draw entering Saturday's match with Valladolid, Barcelona FC couldn't be complacent in this tricky test in Estadio Jose Zorrilla.
Barca came out firing and aggressive, but were unable to find the net for most of the first half. However, this was a club determined to earn three points, and they would not be denied in the 43rd minute.
Absolutely no fault can be charged to the Pucela defense or goalkeeper Dani Hernandez, because Barcelona's typical brilliance was on display on this particular play.
Thiago initiated the surge with a pass to Lionel Messi in close quarters, who dropped it to Jordi Alba on the left along the goal box. Then, a beautiful feed into the center that hugged the pitch found Xavi, who drove it home, giving a huge kick of momentum to the visitors.
Infostrada Sports highlighted just how good Xavi has been this season in La Liga, as the 32-year-old veteran set a new standard for himself in scoring the decisive goal:
Xavi scores his 9th Liga goal in 2012, one more than his previous most prolific year 2008 (8). #fcblive— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) December 22, 2012
Messi continued his legendary year and added to his record-setting goal total (now 91) with a beautiful strike to the corner of the net at 59'—impossible for Hernandez to get to.
The Catalans' attack was furious throughout, and the club dominated Valladolid by possessing the ball 67 percent of the time. This was even without the services of star midfielder Cesc Fabregas and the versatility and passing prowess he brings to the pitch.
Javi Guerra added a late goal in the 89th minute for Valladolid, but it was quickly countered by Barca's Cristian Tello in the fourth minute of extra time.
Here are some player grades from another routine Barcelona victory, as the club now sits nine points ahead of the next closest competitor in La Liga.
Lionel Messi: A
Once again serving as the catalyst for the prolific Barca attack, Messi gave his club added insurance in the second half to put to rest any hopes that the Pucela had any chance of getting back into the match. 91 goals in one calendar year is nothing short of ridiculous—and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
Man of the Match honors are a tossup between the incredible Argentine and Xavi, whose goal marked a career year in La Liga play. His presence in the midfield kept possession in Valladolid territory for the majority of the contest, which was critical to Barca's success.
Dani Hernandez: B+
What a stellar game from the host's netminder, who fell victim to two sensational goals, but to his credit played an otherwise brilliant match. Hernandez's day was summed up well when a backward pass drew him out of the box, and his diving deflection kept the match at 2-0.
It showed his spectacular effort, but also the lack of help he received from the rest of his club, especially offensively.
Javi Guerra: B
Guerra's goal was little consolation, as the Pucela attack couldn't muster any push for most of the afternoon. He was the beneficiary of a ricochet off a stellar save from Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdez and put it home. Otherwise, the Valladolid striker simply made the score more respectable.