After a 0–4 victory over Mallorca in the weekend, coach Quique Setién introduced 5 changes in Tuesday’s line-up. How did these rotations work out for Barcelona against Leganés?
In a game that saw football return to one of its temples at the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona wrestled to a two-nil victory against Leganés. The league toppers thus extended their lead at the top of the table to five points. The pressure is now on their close contenders Real Madrid, who face Valencia tomorrow night.
As was expected manager Quique Setién decided to rotate his squad in several areas last night. As many as five players who started against Mallorca were benched last night. In the backline, Clément Lenglet returned after sitting out the last match due to suspension. Jordi Alba, who had to be dropped due to accumulated yellow cards, was replaced by Junior Firpo. In the middle of the park, Arturo Vidal and Frenkie de Jong were replaced by Iván Rakitić and Arthur Melo, whereas up front teenager Ansu Fati came on for Matin Braithwaite. So how did they fare in their first starts since the three month layoffs?
1. Clément Lenglet
On paper this was supposed to be an easy game for Barça. After all it was the table toppers facing the ones at the bottom. The reality was something else, though, with the underdogs pinning the toppers down initially and coming close to scoring a few times. One of these attempts, notably, was saved on the goal line by Clément Lenglet. Throughout the match, he showed that presence of mind and composition, that has marked his career so far with the blaugranas – except of course for the unnecessary yellow card he picked up later. All in all, he proved why he is a starter alongside Gerard Piqué.
2. Junior Firpo
There have been a lot of rumours regarding the future of Junior Firpo at the club. There have been several reports of him not living up to the expectations and therefore being considered as a makeshift for other deals that the team plans to pull off. There has however been a feeling that, under Setién, Firpo will get another chance at showing his potential. After all, they have worked together well at their previous team: Real Betis.
Junior Firpo indeed had a good outing yesterday, combining well with Ansu Fati on the left. Complementing the teenager well in attack and putting in the hard work by making those over lapping runs in the attacking wing, he was also rewarded by an assist. It may still be early to write him off.
3. Iván Raktić
Iván Rakitić is another player that the club has deemed surplus to necessities. In his case, the reasons are that he is falling down the pecking order as his game is growing slower and sluggish. This was visible in the previous game too as he replaced Arturo Vidal. The chaotic dynamism that Vidal offered – he got the team a goal within a minute and a half – disappeared as Rakitić came in at Son Moix. The tempo slowed down.
This sluggishness was visible in the midfield against Leganés also, as once again Messi had to come deeper and deeper to create and build the game. But it generally was a collective problem more than an individual one, since Rakitić understood well which spaces to occupy in his return to the starting eleven.
4. Arthur Melo
Arthur Malo had come in with so much promise to the team. His first 2018/19 season added to the hopes that he was going to cement his place in the Barça midfield for years to come. Over the span of this campaign, with injury layoffs and a lack of form, this hope is taking a hit. There are even rumours that he is not indispensable any more. In his first start after the break, Arthur did not do anything special to put an end to those links. His pass percentage was high, though most of those passes were horizontal and ineffective.
Arthur Melo will have tough competition for a starting spot | Photo by Marc González Aloma via Imago
Playing alongside Rakitić, he was in part culpable for an underwhelming show in the middle of the park last night. The performance that Riqui Puig delivered off the bench should be a reminder for Arthur. The dynamism that Riqui exhibited has to be lauded. The Brazilian would do well to remember that a spot in the midfield at a side like Barcelona is not to be taken for granted, especially when there are talents like Puig knocking at the door of the first team.
5. Ansu Fati
Young winger Ansu Fati was something of a silver lining for the azulgranas last night. Combining with Junior Firpo, he turned the game on its head when he scored the beautiful opener. The combination worked quite well until the manager decided to rest him. But the performance that Fati put up proved why the board should not even consider selling him – whatever the offer is.
❛ We must take care of Ansu. He’s a very talented player and he gives his best. He’s brilliant ❜
Even at 17 years of age, Ansu gives the team an edge that sadly none of the superstars has been able to. His minutes-per-goal contribution is higher than Antoine Griezman right now. This is not to say that the youngster should start every game, week in and week out. Rather, at his young age the manager must make sure that the kid does not burn out. Nevertheless, one should also remember that he should be given regular minutes alongside the seniors, to polish his game further and further.
Rayo Vallecano 1-2 Barcelona: Match Review
As Barcelona continued their quest to win the King’s Cup, Ronald Koeman experimented. Riqui Puig, to everyone’s surprise, started after scoring his first goal with his boyhood side on the weekend.
Barcelona had an unlucky start to the night with their captain back. The Catalans had many chances and could have won a penalty early on. Francisco Trincão was taken down in the box, but the lack of VAR denied him of a spot-kick.
Lionel Messi, back after two games of suspended, sent a cross right on Ronald Araujo’s head but Stole Dimitrievski was too good. Frenkie de Jong then found the crossbar following a superb cross from Junior Firpo. The midfielder’s effort on the woodwork would follow with Puig, who had a golden chance. Trincão scuffed a shot in front of the Rayo keeper, and the Spaniard had the ball in front of the net. The youngster’s shot ended on the goalpost, and Barça would remain goalless.
Overall, not the worst performance from the Catalans. Sure, they could have scored two or three had they not lacked some finishing, but they thoroughly dominated Rayo away from home.
The first half display did not dishearten Rayo. The locals continued their relentless counter-attacks against a slow Barça team.
The visitors were so slow that Rayo capitalised. Álvaro García danced past Clément Lenglet. Neto could not handle the ball and Francisco García, a Real Madrid loanee, put his side in front. Barcelona had to be rescued, and on came Jordi Alba, Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri.
Neither of the three starters were needed to get the leveller, however. Instead, a work of art from three starters levelled the game for the hopeless Catalans. De Jong found Antoine Griezmann’s run and the Frenchman’s pass made it easy for Messi to score in an empty net. Messi then repaid the Dutchman with a superb chip to Alba, who found the Dutchman lurking in acres of space. Another tap-in put Barça in front for the first time in the game.
Watch De Jong’s goal after a brilliant play from Messi:
Messi creates the play and De Jong finishes it 🔥 pic.twitter.com/jToTIkq2hH— MessiTeam (@Lionel10Team) January 27, 2021
All in all, after a desperate start, Barcelona advanced. Off to the quarters for a side that will go back home on the 31st against Athletic.
Barcelona: Neto; Mingueza, Araujo, Lenglet, Junior (68′ Pedri); De Jong, Busquets, Riqui Puig (68′ Alba); Trincao (68′ Dembélé), Messi, Griezmann
Rayo Vallecano: Dimitrievski; Fernandez (84′ Advincula), Saveljich, Marugan, Martos (84′ Camacho); Comesana; Martin, Trejo, Montiel (56′ Rivera), Garcia; Qasmi