By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Javi Varas and Lionel Messi have history at Camp Nou. The Celta Vigo goalkeeper thwarted the Argentine as a Sevilla player last season, saving a last-minute penalty from the Barcelona forward to deny the Catalans victory at home in La Liga. And on Saturday evening, he denied Messi the chance of dedicating a goal to his new-born son.
Late in the first half, Varas stood tall when other goalkeepers would have committed themselves and Messi was forced wide, then back, losing the chance to mark his child’s birth with a goal and unveil a new celebration he had promised earlier in the week as he received the Golden Shoe award in an event in Barcelona on Monday.
That prize was paraded before kick-off amid smiles from the Camp Nou faithful, but it was to be a frustrating night for Messi on a personal level. Not only did he fail to score, but there was a second-half scare too as he endured a blow to the knee which momentarily left Camp Nou cold but turned out to be nothing but a blow to the leg.
|Leo [Messi] is fine. We were worried because it looked like a knee problem but it’s just a knock
– Tito Vilanova
Messi had stepped onto the turf with his son’s name, Thiago, stitched onto his boots, having also been presented with a mini Golden Shoe for his new hero on Monday. But the new-born will have to wait for his own special dedication. Indeed, the first Barcelona game in his lifetime was no vintage affair, either.
Barca, still suffering absences in defence and with a Champions League clash at Celtic to come on Wednesday, were well below their best but did manage an astonishing pass-completion rate of 93.3 per cent – their best of the season so far.
They took the lead through Adriano, who scored following a fine one-two with Pedro before departing with an injury as the Blaugrana’s curse continued in defence, and went in 2-1 up at the break after Mario Bermejo had levelled on a counterattack and David Villa restored home advantage at the other end.
Celta, a breath of fresh air following their return to La Liga, had given Real Madrid a tough time at the Santiago Bernabeu recently and were making Barca work hard too, causing problems for the home side’s three-man back line – especially in the opening 45 minutes. In the end, Jordi Alba made it 3-1 but the full-back was clearly offside and was fortunate to see his strike count on the hour.
Victory, however, was deserved for Barca and the win saw the Catalans secure their finest-ever start to a Liga season, beating Louis van Gaal’s side of 1997-98 and reaching the mark against Tito Vilanova’s former club.
JOSE MOURINHO | 100 WINS FOR REAL MADRID
Straight afterwards, at the Bernabeu, Madrid made it a century of wins under Jose Mourinho with a 4-0 success at home to Zaragoza, although the scoreline does not tell the entire story either.
Madrid, with a complicated Champions League fixture of their own to come on Tuesday against Borussia Dortmund, went two goals up within two first-half minutes (the 23rd and 25th) through Gonzalo Higuain’s close-range effort and Angel Di Maria’s fine strike at the second time of asking, but they needed Iker Casillas to intervene on several occasions after the break, while Helder Postiga saw a perfectly good ‘goal’ ruled out for offside.
Luka Modric and Michael Essien each grabbed their first goals for the club right at the death, but Cristiano Ronaldo – just like Messi before him – was unable to score, seeing one effort brilliantly saved and rattling the crossbar with a fierce free kick as well. Between them, then, Barca and Madrid had scored seven and there was not one for Leo nor Cristiano. Unusual.
Madrid move up to third as Malaga surprisingly lost at home to Rayo Vallecano, but Real remain eight points behind Barca in La Liga as both sides switch their attentions to the Champions League. The two teams did enough on Saturday but both were well within themselves.
“We can and should play much better,” Mourinho mused afterwards. And he was right: it was no night to tell your children about. Not even for Messi.
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