Club Focus – Barcelona – Keita grabs chance to shine

Barcelona’s total dominance of Real Zaragoza rather betrayed the 1-0 scoreline that saw them restore the ten-point gap between them and Real Madrid at the summit of La Liga.

Seydou Keita scored the winner just before the break, earning the Malian a much-deserved spell in the limelight especially since the usual central midfield pairing of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta has become the foundation of Barcelona’s recent successes. Their influence gives the Catalans something special; the Stradivarius and Steinway of manager Pep Guardiola’s grand orchestra.

Even for Spain’s national team, the likes of Cesc Fabregas, the key ingredient of Arsene Wenger’s blend at Arsenal, are left warming the substitutes bench while Xavi and Iniesta keep the middle of the park purring like a finely tuned Rolls Royce.

Having made an impact as a replacement for Xavi while the Spaniard was out injured, Keita has grabbed his first-team opportunity with both hands but accepts that he won’t be seen as the next Xavi or Iniesta just yet: “In my position we have the best players in the world and it’s not easy to get a game”, he said. “The team is the most important thing, not that some play more than others.”

“I always have confidence in myself. The boss decides who plays and we have to accept that and take advantage every time we do get the chance to play”, he added.

Although Keita’s start was seen largely as a chance to rest the big names before the visit of Arsenal in midweek, perhaps Guardiola had been priming Keita specifically to face Zaragoza: against the same opposition last season, he registered the first and so far only hat-trick of his career in a sparkling display that saw Barca run out 6-1 winners. However, having waited long enough this season to get his chance again, the midfielder chose to deflect the spotlight away from him and onto the team: “You always have to give the most you can. In the end, it’s the team which is the most important thing, because if we win then we all win”, he said.

Pep Guardiola’s recent trials and tribulations with a back injury saw him well enough to take his place on the bench on Saturday and assistant Tito Vilanova remained upbeat about his long-term health: “I hope he will be available on Tuesday against Arsenal, I thought he looked a lot better than against Valencia”, he said. “We all know he has made a great effort and we are all very grateful to him for that. Let’s hope he continues to get better”.

La Blaugrana face Arsenal on Tuesday looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg. So far, all three Champions League ties between the two have been very easy on the eye. You would be hard pushed to find someone who thinks the latest serving will fail to disappoint.

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