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'Barca struggle to defend set-pieces'

Barcelona assistant coach Jorge Pautasso has admitted that problems defending set-pieces were again an issue during Sunday’s 4-1 La Liga win over Almeria.

Tomas: Barca one point behind Liga leaders

The Catalan club were excellent for the first 30 minutes, taking a 2-0 lead through Alexis Sanchez’s opportunistic strike and Lionel Messi’s excellent free kick.

However, Almeria pulled one back through Angel Trujillo’s free header from a corner, and Barca’s players and fans grew increasingly nervous until the points were finally wrapped up late on thanks to Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez.

Eight of the 21 goals -- 37 percent -- conceded by Gerardo Martino’s men in La Liga this season have now come from corners, with two more being from other free kicks around the penalty area -- something opponents as well as statisticians have picked up on.

With Martino suspended, his long-time assistant told the postgame news conference that Barca's best way to stop conceding goals from set-pieces was not to give any away.

“We are a short team and that makes aerial plays difficult for us,” Pautasso said. “In some situations we use a zonal-marking system, in others we mark man-to-man. Our opponents take advantage when they get set-pieces. We will try to improve in this. We try to avoid conceding risky free kicks and corners.”

Barca captain Puyol made a rare start and was bypassed for the Almeria goal -- as were Cesc Fabregas and Victor Valdes -- but he scored his side’s third when knocking home from close range after Messi’s flying header hit the crossbar.

And Pautasso rejected a reporter’s question which suggested the 35-year-old is nearing the end of his Barca career.

“Puyol has a lot of playing time left, he has a lot of authority,” he said. “Every time he plays he gives us answers, he’s always there to help the team and he’s an example for us all.”

Fabregas held his hands up afterwards, saying he should have done better in the build-up to Trujillo’s goal, but also pointed out that many taller players had left Barca in recent seasons.

“They ate me up with potatoes,” Cesc told Mundo Deportivo. “We suffer when marking up, and they scored a goal having done very little. The years pass and we have lost Yaya Toure, [Thierry] Henry, [Eric] Abidal, [Seydou] Keita... and you notice that. But we have a world-class squad.”

A nervous Camp Nou crowd began to whistle during the second half as Almeria grew in confidence, and Blaugrana midfielder Sergio Busquets admitted to Canal Plus that his side could have played better.

“We didn’t have that certain spark in our play, but we’re content with our performance,” Busquets said. “There were some good things, and some things we can improve. I do not know if the whistles were for our play, or something else. I will focus on the applause. There were many Almeria fans in the ground.”

Xavi, who wrapped up the scoring from 20 yards in injury time, told AS that the game should have been killed off much earlier.

“We played a good first half, but their goal tensed us up a bit,” he said. “We should have killed off the game before the break. That has happened to us many times this year, when we have played good first halves, but we have left the games open.”

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