Barcelona continued their fine form in La Liga with a comprehensive 5-1 drubbing of Deportivo Alaves. The Catalans played only their second home game in their last eight fixtures, picking up their seventh league win of 2021. They ousted a relegation-threatened Alaves side who showed good initial signs but were no match for Barça’s attack.
The hosts produced a solid display after Ronald Koeman rolled out with a slightly rotated side in the midst of injuries. He started Riqui Puig and Ilaix Moriba in midfield, giving the team a healthy mix of youth and experience, which worked wonders.
Stellar individual performances from Lionel Messi and Francisco Trincao amid a great collective team effort saw Barcelona play some of their best football all season. Free-flowing passing, evading the Alaves press and breaking their stubborn defensive line, Barça produced the perfect display ahead of their crucial Champions League tie against PSG in the coming week.
1. Trincao’s soaring confidence
There was never much doubt about the technical ability Francisco Trincao possessed. Despite a faltering start to life in Barcelona, he seems to have found a breath of fresh air. After finally scoring his first goal for the club against Real Betis, he stayed on course with another excellent display proving that perhaps all he needed was that small catalyst.
With two more very well taken goals, Trincao upped his tally to three goals in his past two games. The first, an outstanding finish from a Moriba cutback for the opener. And the second, a first-time finish after Lionel Messi was tackled when in on goal. The Portuguese youngster could have easily had a hattrick if it weren’t for a great save from Pacheco in the Alaves goal.
Trincao was much sharper in his movement and seemed to have a better understanding of his teammates’ positioning. His performance was a statement to Ousmane Dembele that he will have to work hard to keep his spot in the team.
2. Koeman gradually starting to trust Puig?
By the looks of things, Riqui Puig and Ronald Koeman’s tumultuous relationship seems to be changing. After struggling to get any minutes in the earlier stages of the season, Puig is finally forcing Koeman to see the error of his ways.
The diminutive midfielder put in a sensational shift in his first full 90 minutes under the Dutch coach. He showed all the qualities that Barcelona fans have come to adore about him. He was turning on a dime, resisting endless streams of the press, performing superb quick exchanges with his teammates, especially Lionel Messi, and releasing the free man in the blink of an eye.
Classic. pic.twitter.com/ElhV4T5F85— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 14, 2021
His rocky start to the season may finally be seeing lighter days. Koeman’s trust in youth was always the most exciting aspect of his managerial style. We saw it once again with his faith in Ilaix Moriba, who despite the error leading to the Alaves goal, still had a solid showing and even got an assist.
Despite his initial stubbornness, it was not going to take far too long for Koeman to come around on Puig. A player of such quality will always shine through the cracks.
3. Pedri is astronomical
While Messi will surely grab the plaudits for his sensational goals yesterday and so will Trincao for his brace, Pedri’s impact off the bench simply cannot be overlooked. The teenager was absolutely remarkable in his 26-minute cameo, conducting the Blaugrana orchestra with awe-inspiring fluidity.
After Luis Rioja scored to claw a goal back for Alaves and make it 2-1, Barça looked slightly erratic. The visitors sensed blood and the Catalans needed to rediscover their rhythm. Enter Pedri, who just always seems so much more mature beyond his years, Replacing Moriba, the Canarian was indomitable.
He was always dynamic, receiving the ball and moving it exactly to where it needed to be. The youngster played some phenomenal passes breaking the defensive lines, including a perfectly weighted ball to Messi which was eventually finished by Trincao.
It is clear that Pedri Gonzalez is a key cog in this new Barcelona machine. His presence is immediately noticeable for the Azulgranas.
3 lessons learned from Osasuna 0-2 Barcelona — Ugly, but necessary three points
The mighty El Sadar has been conquered yet again! With away performances gaining so much momentum under Ronald Koeman, one has to applaud the Dutchman.
On a night when three points were a must to push pressure on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, the side did not disappoint. Now, more than ever, all eyes will be on the Madrid Derby. Barcelona lurk just two points below Diego Simeone’s side, and the pressure on Atletico is real.
The name of Osasuna never resonates with a simple win in the minds of Culès. The Pamplona based side is one of the most feared oppositions when on their own soil. Though the absence of fans does factor in massively, it does not take away anything from the Catalans display. It may not have been a convincing win, however, it was necessary. Here are three takeaways from Barcelona’s win over Osasuna.
1. The fatigue is real
That we now see fatigue set in is not surprising at all. The rigid schedule has kept the Blaugranas on their toes for close to a month. An average of two games a week is torturous to players, moreover so when all are must-wins. Given Barcelona’s situation in the League and the tight situation in the cup, Koeman could not afford to rotate either.
The after-effects of playing 120 high-intensity minutes midweek clearly showed at the El Sadar. Kep players like Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Lionel Messi were uncharacteristically sloppy. The game seemed slow and lethargic, with sluggish movements. The first half was abysmal, spare the rocket goal from Jordi Alba. On any other day with such a performance, the equaliser would have come very soon from the opposition.
2. The goals keep flowing, from unconventional sources
One major factor that separated Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent seasons was the spark that found the back of the net. Barcelona, in recent seasons, have been heavily reliable on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. In any high-pressure games, the whole team would turn to the duo hoping for some magic to be conjured. On the other hand, Real Madrid kept finding goals from every department: defence, midfield and forward.
Now the roles seem reversed. Barcelona when in trouble do not turn desperately to their captain. The Catalans have got goals consistently from all over the pitch. Once again, on Saturday, they walked away with all three points without the forwards scoring any goal.
Indeed, both the assists were conjured by Leo’s sorcery. However, in any other season, Jordi Alba would not go for the shot there. And similarly, no midfielder even last year would dare to go for a goal from the position Ilaix Moriba found himself in. The involvement of the collective for the objective of scoring goals can only be a good thing for Ronald Koeman and Barcelona.
3. The scrambled wins are as important as the aesthetic ones
Any successful side does not enjoy a perfect day every time they step on the pitch. Some days are just meant to be theirs, every pass seems inch-perfect. On such days, no defence can stop such a side.
However, it is the bad days that separate great clubs from average ones. The creme-de-la-creme of clubs scrape out wins even on the worst of days. The wins may not be pleasing to the eyes, but they walk away with all three points nevertheless.
Barcelona under Ronald Koeman are now starting to show these signs. At the El Sadar, the Catalans had everything against them. They had just come off the back of an exhausting 120 minutes at the Camp Nou. Their first choice centre-backs were both out with injury. However, they continued to grind for the full 90 minutes and walked away with a win.
The saplings of a monstrous team have been planted. And truly, we couldn’t have asked for a better gardener. Koeman’s faith in the youngsters even on the worst of nights is fascinating and heavily underrated. Barcelona have now shown to be capable of pulling off wins at both their peaks and lows. The signs are still primitive. However, they are undoubtedly the signs of a great team in the making.