There’s nothing like home sweet home. Barcelona winning this match was almost taken for granted, but the manner in which the Catalans enforced their dominance upon Deportivo Alavés – with no signs of preserving energy visible – was certainly a jaw-dropper. While one is always running the risk of exerting excessive energy before a massive clash, it is hard not to applaud the approach Barcelona took as they looked to frighten PSG and head into the encounter with flair and confidence oozing. A 5-1 thumping ahead of the biggest matchup of the season was the ideal outcome.
In spite of the El Glorioso imposing a strict low block, Koeman’s men were just too slick in possession, playing neat little one-twos, slipping into spaces seamlessly and frankly playing like vintage Barcelona. Albeit a cheap individual error by the young Moriba restored some faith for Alavés in the 57th minute, Barcelona’s liquefied alternation of roles upfront remained second to none, with their desire to constantly strafe Pacheco’s net and score more goals proving to be a breath of fresh air.
Marc-André Ter Stegen: 6
Robbed off a clean-sheet, Ter Stegen was forced to pay the price for young Ilaix Moriba’s unfortunate error after proceedings as Rioja scored a well placed goal in the 57th minute. The German faced a total of 6 shots, but his 90 minutes in goal were rather comfortable as he only had to make one save. With the monumental clash against PSG approaching, fans will hope to see the best version of Ter Stegen in action, and one that isn’t let down by his back-line.
Oscar Mingueza: 7
Out of possession, the young Spaniard appeared to be forming a 3-man-defense while in possession, Mingueza was far more involved offensively, charging up-field with panache as he executed the role of a wing-back. The La Masia graduate’s cross for the opener proved to be vital as he highlighted his laudable adaption in a role he is vastly unfamiliar with. Furthermore, Mingueza won 2 out of his 3 duels, showcasing defensive discipline, too.
Clement Lenglet: 7
In what has been a season full of ups and downs for the French international, Clement Lenglet displayed an impressive performance at the heart of defense, winning 6 of his 10 duels and showing adept awareness in defense. Lenglet was not tested considerably by an exasperated Alavés side, but had an encouraging outing before the mid-week clash against PSG.
Frenkie De Jong: 6.5
The jack of all trades was, on this occasion, tasked to feature in defense as an injured Araújo and an ungainly Samuel Umtiti left little choice for Ronald Koeman. While De Jong was hardly ever forced to engange in any tackles and occasionally neglected his defensive duties, he was as reliable as ever on the ball and distributed it well from the back. The Dutchman would have benefitted from some rest, but is proving to be indispensable in the current Barcelona side.
Junior Firpo: 7.5
Junior Firpo was deployed high up the field, in a far more advanced position than he is used to at Barcelona. However, although the Spaniard was minimally involved in defense, he made some well timed runs in the final third and attempted to recreate Jordi Alba’s role with maturity. Firpo marauded forward at any given opportunity and as a result, etched his name on the score-sheet after a beautiful play constructed by Messi and an accurate assist by Griezmann found the prospect scoring a tap-in.
Sergio Busquets: 7
Barcelona’s conductor in midfield continued to thrive in the single pivot role, with his elegance on the ball once again coming to light. Busquets evaded any ounce of pressure from Alavés comfortably and proceeded to recycle possession on numerous occasions. After a solid first half, the veteran was taken off at the break, in preparation for the clash against the Parisians.
Riqui Puig: 7.5
Riqui Puig is not knocking on Ronald Koeman’s door anymore; he’s barging in. The prodigy’s exuberant performances against Alavés was a testament to his innate abilities against low blocks and understanding of what the team requires of him. Despite opportunities for Puig appearing to be awfully infrequent, he surely made a strong case for himself, uplifting the tempo of the game whenever the ball landed at his feet.
In addition to completing 112 out of 119 passes and creating two chances, his neat little one-twos with the front line were a sight for sore eyes.
Ilaix Moriba: 6.5
The 18 year old made his La Liga debut after Ronald Koeman entrusted him with the keys to the starting XI. While Moriba did well to return the favor with an assist in the first half, his cheap dispossession in the 57th minute which led to Alavés’ only goal saw his performance slightly deteriorate. Overall, the youngster enjoyed an encouraging outing, but often looked confused with the frequent interchanging of roles between Riqui Puig, Griezmann and Lionel Messi. He was taken off soon after his error.
Fransisco Trincão: 8
Portugal’s finest has undeniably turned over a new leaf, having scored 3 goals in his last 2 La Liga matches. Lady luck’s agenda against young Trincão appears to have dwindled as the youngster scored a brace on the night and cut inside effectively from the right hand side. He was rewarded for his smart situation on the field and was whiskers away from securing a hat-trick after a third goal was ruled out as offside.
Antoine Griezmann: 8
Another day, another goal contribution for the man in red hot form. Griezmann was unable to intertwine with the back of the net himself, but was as selfless as ever, assisting twice and making confident plays as he did not hesitate to take on his markers occasionally. The Frenchman has been gravely deprived of rest at this point, yet shows no signs of slowing down.
Lionel Messi: 10
All hail the king! Lionel Messi wore his Blaugrana jersey with pride, and it showed. The Argentine was inarguably the most influential figure on the field, orchestrating plays with the eyes of a hawk while pouncing on opportunities with the instincts of a predator. After being chopped off a goal in controversial manner, the little magician simply elevated to another level in search of redemption.
Scoring two golazos from outside the box as Pacheco was left hopeless on both occasions, the menacing man spared no one in his path and produced the ideal exhibition before an encounter of such high magnitude.
Samuel Umtiti: 6
Miralem Pjanic: N/A
Sergiño Dest: N/A
Ousmane Dembélé: N/A
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.