Barcelona hosted Deportivo Alaves on Sunday afternoon in their final clash ahead of the international break. With Girona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid convincingly winning their games, the pressure was on the team to convert and score three points.
Yet, their most recent result midweek presented a mental hurdle that had to be overcome.
Xavi Hernandez deployed a strong lineup on paper with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in goal and a defensive four of Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Inigo Martinez and Joao Cancelo in defence. The Portuguese star played at left-back while the Uruguayan started on the right.
Pedri Gonzalez finally returned to the starting lineup in midfield, alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Fermin Lopez. Robert Lewandowski started in attack, with Joao Felix and Lamine Yamal to his left and right respectively.
The game at Montjuic could not have got off to a worse start. Barcelona kicked the game off when the opening whistle blew, and within 18 seconds, managed to lose the ball, mess up in defence and concede an opener.
The tragedy began when Ilkay Gundogan lost the ball in the middle of the park with just his first touch. Yet, a lot more went wrong in the seconds that followed to gift Alaves the opener.
The slack Barcelona press failed to mark or put any pressure on Jon Guridi, who drifted past the Azulgrana stars to find Javi Lopez. The winger played a ball into the centre for Samuel Omorodion, and the 19-year-old did not need much to convert.
Down a goal early, it was not surprising that Barcelona’s already low confidence fell a notch lower. The period that followed displayed no conviction from the Catalans, and it was the visiting side that spent greater periods on the front foot.
Alaves neatly sliced Barcelona’s defence into two once again in the ninth minute, playing another low ball to their centre-forward. Omorodion could not convert on that occasion, but it was a big chance wasted for Alaves.
The Blaugrana defence only went from bad to worse. Five minutes after conceding the clear chance, Omorodion was yet again given space and time to run on goal. This time, he only needed to beat Marc-Andre Ter Stegen but failed to hit the target.
To concede a goal and two clear chances in just the opening 15 minutes was dastardly defending from Xavi Hernandez’s side. Yet, they finally conjured an attacking opening in the 17th minute when Robert Lewandowski’s half-volley forced a save from Antonio Siviera.
The half-hour mark saw another unforgivable error from Barcelona’s defence as Jules Kounde lost out sheepishly in a 1v1 with Samu. The goalscorer of Alaves’ opener once again created a 1v1 chance but blasted the ball over the crossbar.
The incident prompted an immediate chance from Xavi Hernandez, as he moved Ronald Araujo to central defence with Kounde playing out wide.
The final ten minutes of the opening period saw the hosts create some chances, albeit not very clear ones. Poor passing sequences, lack of attacking intent and underwhelming first touches let the team down time and time again.
Heading into the dressing room at half-time, Barcelona appeared defeated. The mental block from San Sebastian and Hamburg appeared to have carried forward to Saturday’s clash, for the hosts were nowhere close to their best.
The Catalans began the second half with more punch. Joao Cancelo had half a chance in the 48th minute before delivering a lethal cross into the area himself.
Barcelona did eventually get the equaliser in the 53rd minute, and it had to be Robert Lewandowski. Finding himself at the end of Jules Kounde’s cross, only the Pole could score from the difficult position with a well-worked header.
Raphinha replaced Fermin Lopez in the 62nd minute. Ferran Torres and Alejandro Balde came on for Joao Felix and Jules Kounde respectively soon after.
Lamine Yamal stormed into the Alaves box with trickery in the 71st minute and even tested the goalkeeper but it was in vain.
Barcelona turned on the heat in attack in the final 20 minutes, moving the ball along with more confidence and attacking intent. They were duly rewarded in the 77th minute when Ferran Torres was fouled in the Alaves area by Abqar. Robert Lewandowski stepped up to take the penalty and converted with ease to give his side the lead.
Xavi Hernandez took Pedri off the field for Oriol Romeu with ten minutes to go.
The final phase of the game was relatively balanced with both teams creating their half-chances. Yet, there was no change to the scoreboard, helping Barcelona take all three points despite a terrible first half.
The win buys time for Xavi, who is still under pressure with the team far from its best. Yet, the comeback win will do the team a world of good after their recent rut.