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Barcelona 3-2 Almeria: Match Review

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Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

Matchday 18 of La Liga EA Sports pitted Barcelona against the league’s bottom-placed team Almeria. The visitors on the night had not tasted victory all season in the league, while the Blaugranas were on a three-game winless streak in all competitions themselves.

Xavi had several key decisions to make before the clash but did not opt for anything too drastic in his starting lineup.

Inaki Pena started in goal with Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen as the central defenders. Joao Cancelo was deployed at right-back while Alejandro Balde took over duties at left-back.

With Frenkie de Jong out through suspension, Gavi and Pedri injured, the manager opted to deploy Sergi Roberto, Ilkay Gundogan, and Fermin Lopez in the middle of the park. Robert Lewandowski, Joao Felix, and Raphinha played in the final third.

The hosts began with the bulk of possession in their favour, with Almeria pushed into their area to defend deep. Playing with a back line of five, it soon came to light that parking the bus was not really an issue for the visitors.

Nine minutes into the game, Barcelona had their first big chance. Starting from a Raphinha set-piece, Sergi Roberto found himself well-placed to slot the ball into the back of the net only to be denied by Luis Maximiano.

Almeria soon began soaking Barcelona’s pressure like a sponge, hitting out on vicious counterattacks to create chances. Leo Baptistao and Sergio Arribas were critical for the same as the visitors began asking serious questions of the Catalans’ defence.

Xavi’s men continued creating chance after chance in the first half but suffered from poor finishing. Raphinha’s inadequacy in front of goal cost the team in the 22nd minute before Lewandowski also came up short minutes later. Almeria, meanwhile, appeared dangerous in their limited counters.

The 33rd minute had Barcelona’s opener in store eventually. The goal stemmed from a corner taken by Gundogan that fell perfectly for Araujo. The Uruguayan centre-back directed a towering header that was well-saved by a diving Maximiano.

Unfortunately, there was little the heroic shot-stopper could do against Raphinha’s follow-up strike that hit the roof of the net. Just over half an hour in, Xavi’s men boasted of the lead.

Three minutes after opening the score, Barcelona had a second big chance when Lewandowski found himself in virtually a 1v1 against the goalkeeper. Much to the dismay of fans, he failed to find the back of the net once again.

Almeria struck back in the 40th minute of the clash through a splendid Baptistao goal, and not many can call it undeserved. The equaliser sprouted from Arribas’ quick recovery of the ball in Barcelona’s half and the swift pass to the striker.

The forward looked offside for large parts of the goal but was played onside by Araujo’s stretched effort. With all defenders eliminated courtesy of the assist, Baptistao only required a lobbed finish to seal the deal.

Heading into half-time, it was all level at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys, and rightfully so. The Catalans were far from as convincing as they should have been against La Liga’s lowest-ranked side after all.

Xavi opted to make a double substitution after the break, bringing on Ferran Torres and Jules Kounde for Joao Felix and Christensen respectively. It only took the former three minutes to taste his first chance of the game, although it came to nothing.

Barcelona piled the pressure on Almeria and Maximiano in the opening spell of the second period with Torres and Lewandowski having gone at goal only to be denied.

Once again, it was a set-piece that rescued Barcelona at the hour-mark. Raphinha’s corner found Roberto at the near post which the captain neatly headed past the reach of Maximiano to restore his team’s lead.

Six minutes later, a counterattack appeared destined to hold Barcelona’s third but Chumi’s timely deflection kept the difference to one goal. Xavi replaced Fermin Lopez with Oriol Romeu.

Despite having little to no possession at Montjuic, however, Almeria refused to give up their resistance. Against all odds, they found a second equaliser in the 70th minute to change the script and arrive at the doorstep of a famous comeback.

The second equaliser stemmed from a glaring error from Barcelona’s own Inaki Pena. Collecting the ball from a free-kick attempt, he spilled the ball straight into the path of Edgar Gonzalez who took full advantage.

Pegged back once more, the pressure once again returned to the shoulders of Xavi’s men. They pushed forward in numbers to find a winner, with Araujo even coming close in the 75th minute, but to no avail. The manager took Raphinha off for Lamine Yamal in the 76th minute.

Just around the 80-minute mark, Gundogan was presented with a golden chance to score after Lewandowski’s header across the face of goal fell kindly for him. However, his instincts were not sharp enough to capitalise on the half-chance.

Roberto eventually found the back of the net for Barcelona in the 82nd minute, making a run from the midfield behind Almeria’s defence and calmly slotting the ball past an outstretched Maximiano.

Inaki Pena was forced to make a point-blank save in the 86th minute, but the Catalans managed to pull away with three points eventually. Roberto came close to completing his hat-trick on a couple of occasions but did not have it written in his stars.

The result puts an end to Barcelona’s misery on paper, although it is clear that it leaves the team with a bitter aftertaste having struggled against the league’s lowest-placed side.

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