Henry fires goal-happy Barcelona

Barcelona 4 Valencia 0
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The Independent Online

Thierry Henry knows a thing or too about invincibility – he is a veteran of the Arsenal team that went 49 league games without defeat – and he now finds himself in a Barcelona side that is not just beating, but battering, everything put before it.

Just a week ahead of the visit of Real Madrid, Barça hosted a Valencia side who had conceded three goals on their travels. Henry doubled that total single-handedly with an inspired hat-trick and with Dani Alves adding a fourth they went six points clear at the top.

Pep Guardiola's side cannot repeat Arsenal's unbeaten season because they lost their opening fixture and, on seven goals so far, Henry will be hard pushed to match his 30 from that historic 2003-04 campaign, but he is part of a team poised to break records of a different sort. The Arsenal invincibles scored 73 goals the season they won the league undefeated. Barcelona have hit 44 and they have only played 14 matches.

"We are enjoying ourselves on the pitch and that is the best feeling a player can have. We still haven't won anything and we have to keep working hard," said the Frenchman. "I remember with Arsenal one season we were seven points clear of Manchester United and we ended up losing the league. And two years ago Madrid made up 12 points on Barcelona so having an advantage can put pressure on you.

"The Clasico is always an incredible fixture and we have a lot of desire to show what we are capable of. I just hope that we can keep this form up until the end of the season."

For the team it was business as usual but for Henry it was a step up to a lead role after weeks of just being one of the cast. He got to wear the trousers in Barcelona's attack in the absence of a suspended Samuel Eto'o and took full advantage. On 20 minutes he controlled Yaya Touré's long pass with his first touch and with his second lofted it over Valencia keeper Renan for the opener. Eight minutes later he made it 2-0 after collecting a pass from Alexander Hleb and on 79 minutes he completed his hat-trick tapping-in a Bojan Krkic centre.

With his name being chanted almost for the first time since his presentation to 30,000 supporters 18 months ago and the match ball stuffed up his jersey, Henry disappeared down the tunnel at the end of the game to get the ball signed by his team-mates and to be given three days off by coach Guardiola – he and seven other first-teamers will play no part in Barça's meaningless final Champions League group game against Shakhtar Donetsk tomorrow night. "With that performance he has said 'here I am, my name is Henry and I am still a great player'. He was simply extraordinary," said a beaming Guadiola afterwards. "I am content not just with his goals but with his pressing and his willingness to sacrifice himself for the team."

That pressure was applied all over the pitch as Barcelona went after Valencia. Xavi hit a post before Henry's opener and in the second half Renan denied Hleb point blank to keep the score down. The urgency of the home side was best summed up by their third goal. The second period was barely a minute old when Alves raced onto Xavi's pass, sprinted past Asier Del Horno and dispatched the ball just inside Renan's far post. The more alert of the Valencia players were appealing in vain for off-side... the rest were wondering if the second half had really started.

For Real, it was another desperate weekend. Last night they were beaten 4-3 at home by Seville and go into next weekend's game nine points adrift of Barça. Real had rallied from 3-1 down to level, but then had Arjen Robben sent off and conceded a late winner.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Marquez, Abidal, Gudjohnsen, Touré, Xavi (Keita 84), Hleb (Bojan 72), Messi (Pedro 81), Henry. Substitutes not used: Busquets, Jorquera, Cáceres, Sylvinho.

Valencia (4-3-3): Renan, Miguel, Maduro, Albiol, Del Horno, Baraja (Michel 70), Albelda, Fernandez, Mata (Vicente 80), Villa, Joaquin (Pablo 80). Substitutes not used: Helguera, Panadero, Morientes, Jaume.

Referee: D Borbalán

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