Last La Liga match for Barcelona in the 2019/20 season. They did not disappoint. Showtime as visitors as, despite not being able to win the competition, the team left positive sensations before the Champions League. These are five takeaways from the Deportivo Alavés 0–5 Barcelona.
A victory, three points, clean sheet, manita and confidence recovered as visitors. Against Alavés, Barcelona radically changed compared to the previous and disappointing encounter with Osasuna. The azulgranas came out from minute 1 to look for goals, to play with intensity, and to put on a show at Mendizorroza. Although the result will not take away the league trophy from Real Madrid, it will return smiles to culés and restore the team’s confidence and motivation. With a 0–5 win, this is how Barça officially ended the 2019/20 season in La Liga. These are five things we learned from the Deportivo Alavés 0–5 Barcelona.
1. Riqui Puig masterclass
Riqui Puig was part of the starting eleven and played all 90 minutes at Vitoria, doing a magnificent job in all facets of the game. In attack, by delivering endless key passes, moving from side to side and being very involved, as usual. In defence, he was impeccable in recovering balls and going to press with great intensity. Fans probably witnessed Puig’s best display with the first team. Multiple key passes and many chances generated. He not only gave his first assist in La Liga, but he did it twice.
❗ This was Riqui Puig’s first ever assist in La Liga.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 19, 2020
Many more to come! pic.twitter.com/hncqP4c5sP
Riqui’s first assist came in a counter-atack in which Sergi Roberto sent a great pass to number 28. The youngster calmly controlled the ball and read very well the movement of Lionel Messi, who scored the second of the match. Later, in the second period, Puig received a pass from Messi and had the vision to spot Nélson Semedo arriving into the opposing box, delivering a subtle pass for the Portuguese to score the 0–4. Moreover, the 20-year-old did not stop creating opportunities, as he could even had had two more assists after beautiful balls for Luis Suárez and Arturo Vidal that unfortunately did not end in a goal.
2. Not many available players, but versatile ones
A list of 16 footballers at first glance looks dramatic, especially considering that there were only five men on the bench, two of whom were goalkeepers. For these chaotic situations, it is always necessary to thank Barça for having versatile players capable of playing in multiple positions. This has already been proven more than once this season with Sergi Roberto, Nélson Semedo, Frenkie de Jong and Arturo Vidal.
In the second period, Arturo Vidal acted as a centre-back, as he had done on a few occasions at Juventus | Photo by Ander Gillenea / AFP via Getty Images
During the match against Deportivo Alavés, with a limited squad, Clément Lenglet suffered slight ankle discomfort, forcing him to request the change at the beginning of the second half. With a suspended Gerard Piqué and an injured Samuel Umtiti, Quique Setién had to make an emergency decision to maintain the four-man defensive line. For this, it was Arturo Vidal who acted as centre-back throughout the second half, doing more than well enough. It is always important to have these type of players on a team because you never know when that valuable versatility will be needed.
3. Ansu Fati shows his talent once again
Ansu Fati covered almost all areas of the left flank, as his mobility, reading of spaces and positioning helped the team to create the required width. With the ball, his control, agility, decision making and explosiveness were important for Barcelona to comfortably beat Alavés. 17 years and Ansu continues to shine.
“Ansu Fati doesn’t surprise me at all. He is an assassin from the area”
Ansu Fati’s attributes allowed him to be Lionel Messi’s best partner, as he anticipated the Argentinian’s chipped pass to the centre of the area to come out of nowhere and open the scoring. Undoubtedly the teenager has to be essential in the Champions League this year and be permanently promoted to the first team in the following season.
4. Lionel Messi’s Pichichi and new records
Lionel Messi’s inclusion in the initial line-up was criticised for him needing rest, but you can’t talk about resting the number 10 when he is on the verge of achieving new feats. Messi was pressured by Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema in the race for the Pichichi trophy for the most goals in La Liga. Before matchday 38, Messi had a lead of only two goals. However, a hungry Leo filled with energy secured his seventh Pichichi in his career to become the first player in history to win this many.
❗ RECORD — Messi has now been involved in 1000 goals in his career (703 goals, 297 assists), having played only 867 games. pic.twitter.com/hhmn42YRAn— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 19, 2020
Messi was not only about to break a record related to goals, but also to assists. This term Lionel has become less of a goalscorer, but more of a contributor to the team’s chance-creation through assists. Against Alavés, La Pulga detected Ansu’s run from behind and sent him an almost perfect pass for Fati’s opener. Thus, this allowed Messi to break the record previously held by Xavi Hernández for the most assists in one season in La Liga, and to tie Thomas Müller’s achievement for the most assists in one course in a European league with 21. Messi never ceases to amaze us.
5. A smile before the Champions League
This victory does not mean anything or change the fact that Real Madrid have won La Liga, but it does increase the motivation and confidence in the team before the Champions League. Against Osasuna in the previous matchday, the azulgranas were totally out of shape, incapable of threatening the opposition. Nevertheless, on Sunday afternoon against Alavés, Setién’s men delivered an excellent performance collectively and individually.
Finally, what better way to regain that self-belief than with a 0–5? Such game improved the reputation of Barcelona in the league and allows it to end this season on a positive note. We could more or less draw conclusions about the future of the team in the European tournament and which players will be crucial to progress in it. For now, though, Barça will have enough rest to regain their fitness and be ready for the magical nights of the UEFA Champions League.
Player ratings: Ferencváros 0-3 Barcelona
As Barcelona travelled to Budapest, they went with the intention of maintaining their 100% win record in the UEFA Champions League this season. It was a cold night at the Puskás Arena, but this did not stop the Spanish giants from playing some entertaining football.
Ronald Koeman rested several key players, and for the third game in a row, made several rotations. These rotations are doing wonders for the team’s performance and morale. Fringe players are receiving game time, and regulars are getting some necessary rest. There is a competitive nature to the squad as everyone fights to earn a starting role in the team.
It was a comfortable first-half for Barcelona as the visitors outclassed their opponents. Barça’s left-wing, of Jordi Alba and Ousmane Dembélé, caused Ferencváros many problems, with both players registering an assist on the night. Martin Braithwaite continued his goal-scoring run, and Antoine Griezmann is regaining his confidence. The double-pivot shielded the defence, and the home side rarely threatened the Catalan’s goal.
After half-time, the levels started to drop as the win became increasingly secure. The manager made all of his available substitutions as he looked to freshen things up. Complacency began to creep in, and sometimes the simple option was ignored. However, Koeman should be delighted with the performance and the current form of the squad.
The Brazilian goalkeeper returned to the starting line-up after a string of convincing performances at the beginning of the campaign. Neto was relatively untested throughout the match as Ferencvaros struggled to create many chances. When the goalkeeper was called into action, he was alert and sharp to react.
Sergiño Dest: 8
Sergiño Dest continues to impress since his move in the latest transfer window from Ajax. The right-back possesses an abundance of potential and ability. He is excellent with the ball at his feet and can receive it in any position on the field.
Dest can do it all. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
On Wednesday evening, Dest proved his quality once again with another exciting performance. The right-back constantly pushed forward and took defenders on. Even though he is attack-minded, the American international never seems to be caught out of position. The area that he could still improve on is his delivery into the box as his crosses do not find a teammate enough.
Óscar Mingueza: 7.5
In a time of crisis, La Masia has saved Barcelona once again. This time it comes in the form of Óscar Mingueza. As the club only had one fit centre-back, the B team player has filled this position and shown he is ready to play at this level. The fixture in Budapest is now his third appearance with the first team, and he has been sensational in each of them.
Against Ferencváros, the 21-year-old had a quieter evening as the side from Hungary struggled to create in the final third. The Spanish centre-back is energetic and athletic whilst still being calm and composed. He was one of the few Barça players that maintained their intensity throughout the full 90 minutes.
Clément Lenglet: 7
After limping off the field on Sunday, Clément Lenglet managed to recover in time for the UEFA Champions League tie midweek. The Frenchman had his usual solid performance and remained focused during his time on the pitch. His range of passing was, again, a huge asset to the team. For clubs that like to build play from the back, having a left-footed centre-back is a huge asset in breaking the press and progressing the team up the field.
Jordi Alba: 7
Jordi Alba has recovered his best form this campaign, especially going forward. The full-back added another assist for the season and was relentless in his attacking runs. He combined well with Ousmane Dembélé for the first goal after exchanging a couple of passes and eventually crossing the ball, allowing Antoine Griezmann to score.
He was taken off at half-time by the manager, probably just to rest him. However, the veteran defender has been one of the most important players for the club this season. His overlapping runs always provide an option for his teammates and pin back the opposition.
Sergio Busquets: 6
Sergio Busquets began the match with the captain’s armband. However, he did not produce one of his better displays. He controlled the game well and did what a pivot should, but was clumsy in several challenges. This saw him booked and then he committed another risky foul not long after this, which possibly resulted in him coming off in the second half.
The classy performances from the midfielder seem too few and far between these days. Either a lack of concentration or complacency seems to be the answer. At times, the Spaniard still reads the game expertly, but he is prone to lapses of concentration and some loose passes now.
Miralem Pjanić: 7
The Bosnian put in another dominant performance as he ran the midfield from start to finish. Miralem Pjanić completed 124 passes in total with a 94% pass completion rate. Whenever he plays, Barcelona seem to retain possession better and distribute the ball more efficiently. The former Juventus player is one of the best passers around and showed this with an outstanding first time outside of the boot pass over the opposition defence that found a teammate perfectly.
A stunning pass from the Bosnian playmaker, Miralem Pjanic! https://t.co/0pBibeWXZD— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) December 2, 2020
Where Pjanić could improve is in his defensive contribution. He does not offer as much protection as some of his midfield counterparts. This is an important aspect of being a double pivot and could be why he is not an undisputed starter yet.
Francisco Trincão: 6
It was a strange evening for Francisco Trincão. There were a lot of mistakes in his performance, but a lot of promise too. He drifted inside and moved into the central areas more than usual. This is likely to be what the manager asked of him as he played the full 90 minutes.
The 20-year-old is still adapting to Barcelona and still developing. He will learn a lot from these mistakes, which is probably why Ronald Koeman left him on for the full game, even though Trincão was clearly exhausted. The Portuguese talent needs some fine-tuning but has all the right attributes to succeed at the club. He is intelligent and technically excellent on the ball.
Antoine Griezmann: 7.5
Antoine Griezmann has certainly been enjoying himself more in recent matches. He has been improving for some time now. There were some games where the forward was missing too many chances, but he was doing well to get himself into these positions. Now, the goals seem to be coming too, and the best version of the World Cup is re-emerging.
Antoine Griezmann is returning to his best, slowly but surely. (Photo by Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)
He showed a lot of confidence for his goal against Ferencváros, where he flicked it between the goalkeeper’s legs. The Frenchman continued the game in fine form, playing with a lot of freedom and linking with his teammates. Griezmann wanted the ball and wanted to be involved in the play. Being in his favoured position and having a natural number 9 ahead of him is definitely the key to getting the best out of the former Atlético Madrid star.
Ousmane Dembélé: 8.5
Possibly the Frenchman’s best performance of the season, Ousmane Dembélé was almost at his mesmerising ceiling against the Budapest outfit. For starters, he is minimising how many times he gives possession away cheaply. Furthermore, he is becoming more productive in the final third and working hard to press his opponents. He produced a few solo efforts that went just wide and turned the defenders inside out.
In the second period, Dembélé was given the captaincy after some substitutions were made. This was the perfect moment as his performance was filled with maturity. The winger needs regular game time to continue to improve and be at his best. Having a match fit Dembélé could be key if Barcelona are going to win trophies this season.
Martin Braithwaite: 7.5
Martin Braithwaite has returned to the side in recent weeks and has earned his place in the starting 11. He has now scored three goals in the UEFA Champions League, making him Barcelona’s joint-top scorer in the competition alongside Lionel Messi. Additionally, Braithwaite has also won two penalties in his last two games in the competition.
The Dane has become a vital part of the Blaugrana set-up. He allowed others to play with freedom and created space for them with his movement and by keeping the opposition defenders occupied. In his last three starts, the Spanish giants have scored 11 goals, with Braithwaite featuring heavily in around half of them. Though the striker might not always make the headlines, he is proving to be an important part of the squad.
Frenkie de Jong: 7
Junior Firpo: 6.5
Konrad de la Fuente: 6
Riqui Puig: 7
Riqui Puig was given just over 25 minutes on Wednesday evening to impress. The La Masia graduate was asked to play in a more attacking role. The Spaniard did this well and played with his usual quality on the ball and enthusiasm. He pressed well and won the ball high up the pitch on one occasion. This allowed him to run through on goal and he passed it to Ousmane Dembélé, leaving him 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper, but for some reason, he tried to return it to Puig.
Riqui Puig deserves more time, and his three key passes in 25 minutes stand as evidence. (Photo by Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images)
The young midfielder needs more game time from the manager to get to his best level and to keep developing and learning. The talent is there, he just needs the experience and he could become a world-class player for Barcelona.
Carles Aleñá: 7
Carles Aleñá was introduced at the same time as Riqui Puig. His role was different as he was instructed to be one of the double pivots. Aleñá seems to enjoy this role, and his distribution of the ball has been almost perfect when he has played there. The 22-year-old is the ideal Barcelona midfielder and looks to be winning Ronald Koeman’s trust with every opportunity he is given.