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Santi Giménez | 23/12/2012
Forced to cope with the relapse of their coach Tito Vilanova's cancer, the Barcelona players arrived in Valladolid under no little mental strain. Even so, they came out deserved winners. In the end, a 3-1 scoreline did justice neither to the visitors nor their hosts: true, Djukic's side did score with their only shot on goal, yet it is also the case that they proved themselves more than capable of quelling Barça's offensive force. At no point did the Catalan side achieve the level of superiority or consistent danger which they have become used to. Nevertheless, nobody is safe from the brilliance of Lionel Messi. The Argentine may have fallen short of Zarra's record of seven consecutive braces in league football, but his goal tally of 91 in 2012 remains spectacular.
As Barcelona were changing before the match, they were told the news that Tito Vilanova had been discharged from hospital and would watch the match at home. Without doubt, it was a piece of news which transformed the mental complexion of the squad. The Barça players came onto the pitch in T-shirts that bore one of Vilanova's favourite mottos in Catalan: "Seny, pit i collons" ("Common sense, pride and balls"). And this message mirrored the team's performance. To come away from Valladolid with a win, common sense was exactly what was needed, and Xavi Hernández provided it; pride was essential, and Messi excelled, involved every time the away side created danger; finally, young Cristian Tello provided the balls to finish the game off at the death.
Right at home. It's clear that Barça are popular almost wherever they go: the Valladolid crowd gave Vilanova an ovation when a message of support for the Barça boss appeared on the scoreboard, applauded Messi's goal, called for the introduction of David Villa and cheered Andrés Iniesta's name enthusiastically. That doesn't mean they stopped cheering their own team on for a single second, but the José Zorrilla stadium certainly was not the most hostile environment the league leaders will ever face.
In footballing terms, the match kicked off marked by the decision, taken together by Vilanova and temporary coach Jordi Roura, to start with Alexis Sánchez rather than Villa, who started on the bench for the fifth consecutive league encounter. The selection of Javier Mascherano over Carles Puyol also caused surprise. Seeing Thiago in place of Iniesta was less of a shock, given that the latter had been struggling with injury all week.
Without the ball, the Chilean forward could not be faulted for his movement and endeavour, yet when presented with an opportunity, his propensity towards snatching at his shot is becoming the stuff of legend. He spurned an early chance to open the scoring and, after that, Barcelona were forced to be patient until Xavi broke the deadlock after a piece of magic from Messi. In the second half, the visitors increased their lead through yet more mastery from the Argentine international . With the match all but settled, Javi Guerra scored his first top-flight goal to pull one back for 'los blanquivioletas', before Tello rounded off the scoring.
IMAGEN: El rodillo no descansa nunca