In a late kickoff on Tuesday, Barcelona took on Sevilla in a clash that has something to gain for both parties. For the Andalusians, the game provided the chance to go within three points of league leaders Real Madrid. Meanwhile, for Barcelona, it was a chance to make it within an arms grasp of the top four.
The game at Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan was a hard-fought one but ended in a stalemate with a goal to each team’s name. A visibly dejected Xavi said after the game that it was one that should have come off as a win for his side. Yet, there are plenty of positives to take away from the game last night. Here are three takeaways from the night.
1. The underrated dominance
Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan is a name that terrorizes even the best of the managers in the league. Over the years, the stadium has earned a reputation for being amongst the most difficult venues for visitors. Sevilla have not lost a single game at their home stadium this season, and even beat Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at the same venue just three days ago.
Xavi’s side are considered underdogs this season, especially when put up against the likes of Los Rojiblancos. Yet, the team that the world has written off put up a dominating display in their opponent’s den.
On Tuesday, Barcelona recorded a total of 23 shots, with seven shots on goal as opposed to Sevilla’s five and one respectively. The Catalans had nine shots blocked compared to the hosts’ one and even had five more corners taken. Ousmane Dembele rattled the woodwork late in the second half too in what was a game-defining moment.
Defensively too, Xavi’s men were on the money. Barcelona won a total of 61 duels on the night as opposed to the Seville-based side’s 43 and also won four more aerial duels than their opposition.
The relentless pressing did not go begging, for Barcelona dominated the play with close to 60% of the possession.
2. Ousmane Dembele: A class act
Six minutes from the completion of the ninety minutes, Dembele danced to his left and fired from the edge of the box. As the world held its breath, the ball clattered against the left post, inches away from being the winner Barcelona deserved.
Sevilla has been a favourite opposition for the Frenchman in the past, and that did not change on Tuesday. At the Pijzuan, Dembele provided what was one of his best performances in recent times. Not only was the forward motivated, but acted as a source of all of Barcelona’s attacks.
On the right-wing, he created a real menace for Ivan Rakitic and Karim Rekik. He completed four key passes against the Andalusians, gave six accurate crosses, and had a 100% success rate on his long balls.
Moreover, he provided the assist to Ronald Araujo from the corner to set up the late goal in the first half. Two shots blocked and an effort striking the woodwork only add to what was an impressive performance.
In recent days, there has been a sudden reversal of the situation over Dembele’s contract renewal. If Tuesday’s display is anything to go by, Barcelona should be mighty pleased with the news.
3. Slow and steady progress, but progress for sure
Every time a new coach steps into Barcelona’s sidelines, there is a brief period of optimism when the team play out of their skin. That effect eventually fades away, as it did under Ronald Koeman and Quique Setien. However, the situation feels different with Xavi.
Under the club legend, there has been no sudden improvement only in terms of motivation and drive. The changes seen in the play are because of a more tactically sound setup, where players know exactly what is expected of them. The team have performed as a unit, with a minimal difference be it home or away.
Xavi has been fearless in calling upon youngsters, and the situation can only get better in January. The return of Ansu Fati and Pedri boosted by a couple of signings in the forward department can only make Barcelona better.
Moreover, the imminent first-team promotions of Nico and Gavi can open up space for other promising B team talents like Mika Marmol to come in and prove their worth.
The year is long, and so are the list of fixtures ahead of the team. Yet, there is a feeling that the team is in safe hands, and finally following a clear direction.