Barcelona temporarily jumped into sole possession of first place in La Liga after beating Almeria 2-0 at Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneos.
Lionel Messi and Adriano each found the back of the net in the victory, and with the clean sheet, the Catalans will retain the best defensive record in the country for at least another week.
Messi, who had scored seven league goals coming into Saturday’s encounter, opened the scoring in the 21st minute after dragging two midfielders with him into the goalmouth, playing a neat one-two with Pedro and then driving a left-footed shot that beat goalkeeper Esteban inside the far post.
Eight minutes later, however, the Argentine maestro suffered an apparent thigh injury and was replaced by Xavi Hernandez.
Aleix Vidal managed to provide whatever goalscoring opportunities Almeria managed on the night, and with two minutes remaining in the first half, he drew a foul that resulted in a free-kick Rodri could only place wide of the target.
Barcelona seemed to lack fluency after the restart, but they were two goals ahead after 56 minutes thanks to Adriano’s second goal of the campaign:
Xavi did ever so well in the buildup to shimmy his way past one defender before stabbing the ball to Cesc Fabregas, and the former Arsenal midfielder’s pinpoint delivery found Adriano as he rushed into the box.
From there the match developed something of an edge to it, and Sergio Busquets, in particular, was perhaps fortunate to have picked up only one yellow card in the 90 minutes.
Neymar—quite clearly champing at the bit to get onto the field—was preserved by Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino for next week’s Champions League encounter with Celtic.
Key Player Grades
Lionel Messi: A
Once again, Messi found the back of the net, scoring the match-winner. The only downside to his performance was that it lasted just 29 minutes—derailed by an injury suffered just prior to the half-hour mark. His status will become clearer after undergoing tests upon returning to the Catalan capital.
Andres Iniesta: A
Iniesta put in another all-world performance against Almeria. Despite the physical nature of the game, he managed to touch the ball 94 times, complete 92 percent of his passes and contribute a pair of tackles. (All statistics courtesy WhoScored.com.)
Aleix Vidal: B+
No Almeria player threatened the Barcelona back line more than Vidal. Withdrawing in the 65th minute was clearly to save him for a more winnable match. But for just over an hour, he had the running of Dani Alves out wide, and he also caused no shortage of problems for Marc Bartra, who was shaky.
Next up for Almeria is a trip to Sevilla, and they’ll return from the international break with a home match against Rayo Vallecano on October 20. Barcelona, meanwhile, have Celtic in the Champions League on Tuesday and will host Valladolid on October 5. They’ll be away to Osasuna on October 19.