Osasuna 3-2 Barcelona: La Liga title slipping away for Pep Guardiola's men
La Liga's reigning champions Barcelona look unlikely to retain their crown after slipping to a shock 3-2 defeat at Osasuna on Saturday night as their away day blues continued.
The below zero pitch-side temperatures and snow blowing in off the nearby Pyrenees made free-flowing football difficult, but a rip-roaring contest with five goals and three more chalked off ensured a heated atmosphere throughout inside the Estadio Reyno de Navarra.
A brace from Croatian striker Dejan Leka saw the home side lead 2-0 at half-time, and although Alexis Sánchez and Cristian Tello scored for Barca after the break, Raul García's strike gave the Pamplona side a deserved three points. The result means Barca's arch-rivals Real Madrid will go ten points clear if, as expected, they beat Levante on Sunday night.
Barca boss Pep Guardiola told reporters afterwards that a poor start by his players had cost them the game. “They were better than us in the first half and adapted better to the conditions,” he said. “At half-time I told the players we never give up and we played better in the second half. The disallowed goals made it harder for us, but that happens in a game. Our situation in the league was already difficult and we expect the gap to grow tomorrow.”
Osasuna boss José Luis Mendilibar was unsurprisingly delighted when he appeared after the game. “We started well and spent more time in their half than our own and we showed the ability to turn our pressure into goals,” he said. “The second half they put on more pressure, and you always think they can score but we came through in the end.”
The game began with Guardiola surprisingly leaving Xavi Hernández, Cesc Fábregas and Andres Iniesta on the bench. Mendilibar went for an attacking line-up and the Basque coach’s daring approach was rewarded on just four minutes when García slid the ball behind a static Barca defence and Croatian striker Leka ran on to place it calmly past Víctor Valdes.
Barca had to hit back. In the first controversy of the night Alexis netted after Thiago’s long ball set him racing free, but the linesman had wrongly flagged. This looked even more important on 21 minutes when Álvaro Cejudo crossed and Leka tapped home from close range with Barca centre-halves Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol both absent.
The visitors really needed to hit back now. A quick one-two between Alexis and Messi freed the Argentine, but he poked his shot weakly at Andrés. Alexis had the ball in the net again, but he’d used his hands and referee Paradas Romero flashed a yellow. Osasuna were next to bemoan the officials when Leka ran completely clear but was wrongly flagged offside.
Guardiola made two changes at half-time, but opted for his kids not the cavalry, with Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello replacing Pedro Rodríguez and Carles Puyol. Most inside the stadium were relieved to see the three world cup winners remain in their seats.
Cuenca’s first contribution a cross which missed three defenders and Alexis pulled one back from close range. But Osasuna recovered their two goal advantage almost immediately when Víctor Valdes’s mistake gifted away possession and García squeezed in Nino's cross at the near post.
Barca kept trying to pass along a frozen pitch and through a wall of home defenders. Alexis headed a free kick just over. Messi’s ball gave Tello space for a curler which Andrés spectacularly finger-tipped behind.
Guardiola made his final move, replacing Piqué - who had a bad night - with Fábregas. It was soon 3-2 after Tello showed composure to dummy a defender and hammer the ball high into the net from eight yards.
There were 15 minutes remaining and the excitement levels grew. Home midfielder Puñal hit a post from 20 yards. Messi teed-up Tello but Andrés again got enough behind the shot. The youngster then bundled the ball in at the back post, but the linesman’s flag was up again, this time correctly.
Five minutes of added time kept the tension high inside the stadium, and Fábregas fluffed a header from only six yards out. The final whistle brought cheers which likely echoed all the way to Madrid.