First Division - Day 34

Barcelona 3 - Alavés 2

Barcelona: Reina; Puyol, Abelardo, Frank De Boer, Coco; Rochemback, Xavi, Cocu (Motta 82'), Luis Enrique (Reiziger 90'); Saviola, Overmars (Gabri 56'). 4-4-2.
Alavés: Herrera; Lombardi, Coloccini, Téllez, Llorens (Magno 65'); Pablo (Iván Alonso 77'), Turiel (Witschge 65'); Astudillo, Jordi Cruyff, Ibon Begoña; Rubén Navarro. 4-2-3-1.

Team changes: Barcelona: Reina, Puyol, Frank De Boer, Xavi for Bonano, Reiziger, Christanval, Rivaldo / Alavés: Téllez, Ibon Begoña, Rubén Navarro for Karmona, Magno, Iván Alonso.

1-0. 13. Saviola. Chipped ball back over keeper after Xavi corner fell to him.
2-0. 66. Rochemback. Controlled Xavi pass before placing low shot past keeper.
2-1. 71. Magno. First time shot after Navarro pulled back long pass by Witschge.
3-1. 88. Saviola. Took Xavi pas to round Coloccini and shoot under keeper.
3-2. 93. Iván Alonso. Ran on to long Begoña pass to place ball past Reina.

Barcelona took advantage of slips by most of the teams around them to consolidate their fourth position in the league with a 3-2 win over Alavés. With Rivaldo not fully fit and Kluivert also out with an injury, the responsibility for getting the goals fell on the young shoulders of Saviola. He lined up flanked by Luis Enrique and Overmars in attack, with Puyol returning from injury and Spanish under-21 keeper Reina replacing Bonano, who was carried off midweek against Panathinaikos. Rubén Navarro returned in attack for the visitors and Téllez came back after another one match ban, his fifth of the season. The Spanish international was lucky not to put his side behind in the second minute when referee Pérez Pérez ruled out his own goal deciding that Saviola was offside, and Saviola and Luis Enrique both failed to convert chances a few minutes later.

With around a quarter of an hour on the clock Luis Enrique got free from his marker and fired in a shot which Herrera turned away for a corner. Xavi's kick fell to Saviola on the edge of the area, and he chipped the ball back into the net over the head of Herrera, who complained to the referee that he had been fouled by Abelardo. Saviola could have increased Barça's lead before the break if he had passed to the unmarked Luis Enrique rather than shooting himself, but it was Alavés who came close to scoring after the restart when Reina saved from Lombardi and then Pérez Pérez ruled out an Astudillo goal for a borderline offside. Rexach brought on Gabri for Overmars ten minutes in to the half to try and win back control in midfield, and a few minutes later Mané introduced two more attacking players Magno and Witschge for Llorens and Turiel, with Begoña dropping back. However before they had time to settle in Rochemback, playing one of his best games for since joining the club in summer, took a pass from Xavi and beat Herrera with a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

The visitors didn't give up though and they pulled one back on a rapid breakaway, Witschge's long ball out of defence finding Rubén Navarro down the left wing for him to cross first time for Magno to beat Reina. Alavés threw everything forward with gay abandon after that, but Saviola appeared to have settled things with an excellent goal in the last minute after another through ball from Xavi, leaving his Argentine under-20 team mate Coloccini behind before shooting wide of the keeper. Even then though it was not all over, and Iván Alonso took advantage of a rare defensive mistake by Puyol in injury time to run on to Ibon Begoña's long pass and beat the keeper again to set up a nail-biting last few seconds. Barça move three points ahead of Celta (who they visit next week), and even catch up a bit on the top two Valencia and Real Madrid, now six and five points above them respectively. Alavés drop to ninth, but with Málaga losing and Bilbao drawing they are still only one point away from the last UEFA spot.