Barcelona start 2009 with win over Mallorca


Madrid : Spanish leaders Barcelona kicked off 2009 with a 3-1 comeback win at home over lowly Mallorca with goals from Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta and Yaya Toure.

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After Saturday’s win Barca now have 44 points from 17 games – the highest-ever total at this stage of the season and 11 more than Valencia, who moved up to second late Saturday with a 3-1 defeat of Atletico Madrid.

“It was a great way for us to start the year,” said Henry, in his best form since joining Barca from Arsenal in 2007.

Barca coach Josep Guardiola raised eyebrows by leaving Lionel Messi – who returned late from holiday – in the stands, and Daniel Alves on the bench. The tight win, however, tends to vindicate his “rotation” policy, though his team did not play particularly well.

Aritz Aduriz gave Mallorca a shock lead in the 16th minute. The Basque striker took advantage of a mistake by Yaya Toure, powered his way through the slow Barca defence and scored with a classy chip.

Twelve minutes later, with Barca finally coming to life, Eidur Gudjohnsen hit the Mallorca crossbar.

In the 32nd minute, Henry made it 1-1 with a left-footed cross-shot, after the Mallorca defence had failed to clear a Xavi corner.

Mallorca were pinned back into their own half throughout the second half, desperate to hold on for a draw.

In the 76th minute, supersub Andres Iniesta, back after a three-month layoff, made it 2-1 by turning in a generous Gudjohnsen centre, with Mallorca defenders screaming for a non-existent offside.

Mallorca right-back Josemi was sent off at the end, before Yaya Toure made it 3-1 with a handsome solo goal, picking his way through the weary visiting defence.

The latest defeat leaves Mallorca fourth from bottom – with just 14 points – and coach Gregorio Manzano in hot water.

Later Saturday, Valencia moved up to second with a 3-1 defeat of defensively brittle Atletico Madrid, with David Silva the two-goal hero.

Valencia now have 33 points, two points more than Sevilla and three more than Atletico, who crash down to fourth. Sevilla will regain second place if they beat bottom team Osasuna at home.

David Villa gave Valencia the lead in the 35th minute from a non-existent penalty, given for a supposed push by Raul Garcia on Ruben Baraja. Five minutes later, Silva made it 2-0 with a left-footed poke, after being set up by right-back Miguel.

The same as Barca’s Iniesta, Silva – another of Spain’s Euro 2008 heroes – has just returned from injury, to the relief of his team.

Atletico were given a penalty of their own at the end of the first half for a needless push by Baraja on Sergio Aguero. Diego Forlan calmly converted the spot-kick to give Atletico hope of a second-half fightback.

However, their chances were killed off in the 70th minute by Silva, who made it 3-1 with a blistering left-footed drive from outside the box.

“It’s a good feeling to finish the night in second place,” said Silva. “We worked hard tonight against difficult opponents.”