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Barcelona vs. Sporting Gijon, 3-1

Final score aside, Barcelona did not have an easy win against their low-ranked rival team tonight. Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets had been suspended for accumulated yellow cards, while, in addition to the usual suspects, Eric Abidal and Thiago Alcantara were out with injuries sustained during this week's international friendlies. That left Pep Guardiola with few options for his starting line-up, although on the upside, it did force Messi and Busquets to rest before next week's Champions' League game and also gave someone other than Messi the chance to be Man of the Match for once.

That was Andres Iniesta, hot off his goal for the National Team on Wednesday. Although Cesc Fabregas was technically playing in Messi's place as center forward, it was Iniesta who took on most of the responsibility for their suspended teammate's role. Not only did Don Andres score the first goal off a great combination play by Seydou Keita and Adriano Correia, he also set up Xavi for a lovely last chip over the keeper in extra time. (The second goal was scored by Keita late in the game off an assist from Alexis Sanchez.)

Adriano and Iniesta celebrate the first goal of the game

If there's a title that signifies the opposite of the Man of the Match, it would have to go to Gerard Pique. I had noticed on Wednesday how vigorously he defended the Spanish goal, almost as if inspired by his Real Madrid teammate, the tireless if occasionally overly aggressive Sergio Ramos. Well, it seems that Pique was inspired by other aspects of Ramos' play as well, because he was ejected with a red card shortly into the second half for bringing an attacker down inside the penalty box. Whether the expulsion was deserved can certainly be argued, and the yellows were flying thick and fast in this game in general. But regardless of the justice of the call, the result was two strikes against us - first, that Sporting Gijon scored almost immediately after Pique left the field, and second, that we played with one man down for the remainder of the game - two men down after Alexis pulled a groin muscle late in the second half and simply limped off the field.

Ah well. No points lost, and the League grinds on with Real Madrid's game against Espanyol tomorrow. Visca el Barca!



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