After finally some positive sensations to end the league season, our editors share their takes and player of the match on the convincing Barcelona 0–5 win against Deportivo Alavés.
With the league already lost to Real Madrid following Los Blancos‘ 2–1 win over Villarreal and Barcelona’s 1–2 loss against Osasuna on matchday 37, the blaugranas at least needed to deliver a satisfactory performance against Deportivo Alavés to end the La Liga season and regain their lost confidence. That is just what they did, scoring five goals and conceding none at Mendizorroza before getting some rest ahead of August’s Champions League. Following Sunday’s win, our editors share their opinions and standout performers from Barça’s latest victory.
A good springboard for the Champions League
With the fate of each team already decided, this match-up was going to be unpredictable. Either we would have seen the team’s playing like they have nothing to lose, or playing like they don’t have anything to play for. Thankfully, we saw both team playing with passion and enthusiasm.
“We have talked a lot, and it has helped ease the situation for us”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
Barcelona, with a small squad, were quite good in attack and Alavés’ attacking football often allowed the visitors freedom to attack immediately. This was a match where both teams could have scored more than they did. Alavés just weren’t clinical when finishing whereas Barcelona hit the woodwork multiple times. The 5–0 victory was well-deserved after some excellent performances from some individuals playing for the Catalans.
Standout performer: Riqui Puig
This one was quite tough, with Lionel Messi deserving it as much if not more. However, the fact that this is the first time that Riqui Puig is getting so much first-team action and that it is basically his breakout season even though he has been popular for a while is incredible. For a breakout season and a player who is so inexperienced at this level, Puig performed beyond all expectations.
He received the ball in many dangerous places, always aware of the surroundings and calmly making the best decision. He was, next to Messi, the biggest asset in transitioning into attack. Puig’s passes were pinpoint accurate and perfectly weighed. Alavés allowed Barcelona a lot of space through the middle which benefitted the young Spaniard highly. He could have easily gotten three assists, to cap off a performance which definitely puts him on the radar to start against Napoli.
Some good signs at last
FC Barcelona finally found their scoring boots while routing Deportivo Alavés with five goals to nil. In a promising performance that might well be considered as “too little, too late”, the blaugranas showed great movement, coordination and dynamics. That all these heroics came in a match that was deemed irrelevant and meaningless is a fact. But that does not take away a good display of beautiful football, especially from a team that desperately needed a break from all the bleakness surrounding them both on the field and off it.
Barcelona travelled to Vitoria with a thin squad owing to absences due to suspensions and injuries. While Gerard Piqué, Junior Firpo and Iván Rakitić were suspended, Antoine Griezmann and Samuel Umtiti were out with injuries, which meant that the coach had to introduce some young faces in the starting line up. Those young faces, Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig and Ronald Araújo, showed the squad and its manager what it was missing, in terms of pace and transitions, and underlined their own respective cases for more chances and a permanent promotion to the senior squad.
The youngsters got a chance to play and impress on Sunday | Photo by Cordon Press via Imago
The integration of youth with experience paid good dividends as the team exhibited quick transitions, relentless press to retrieve the ball, and a solid, coordinated backline. The latter point has to be underlined as the team was left with no regular defenders when an injured Clément Lenglet left early in the second half. His role was then taken up by Arturo Vidal, who combined with Araújo decently. What helped the backline more, was that there was much more activity in the middle of the park, where Puig’s quick movements created problems for the opponents.
The connections also looked good, especially between Riqui and Ansu Fati, the frontline of Fati, Suárez and Messi, between Messi and Puig, etc. The seniors were also seen to be showing faith in the new kids by seeking them out with the ball as well as with words of advice. Over all therefore, a game with good vibes that will definitely boost the team as they shift their focus towards the second leg game at home with Napoli for the Champions League round of 16.
Standout performer: Riqui Puig
For far too long now, Barcelona has been trying to find a creative outlet in the team not just to help Lionel Messi, but to take some of the responsibilities off of his shoulders. Players have come and gone, but no one really looked like they were tailor made for that role. Riqui Puig’s performance on Sunday, therefore, must have come as a breath of fresh air to the squad, its manager and the fans around the world.
As has been reported by various outlets, the three big chances Puig created yesterday was the first time someone other than Lionel Messi did that for Barcelona since April 2018. With two assists and a scorching long ranger that shook the cross bar early on in the game, Puig absolutely lit up the ground yesterday.
Constantly looking to create chances, advance the ball and attack, Riqui soon started attracting defenders and thereby created more space and openings for Messi. It was an altogether brilliant performance from the youngster who, in my opinion, has just made the case for a starting role in the upcoming European tie against Napoli.
Too little too late
At the end of the tunnel, there is a light. Barça’s season has been too hectic, and fans have asked themselves if the team still has it in them. The game against Alavés, similar to the dominant win at Villarreal, was sumptuous. Yes, Alavés were open and perhaps already at the beach, but this should not discredit Barça’s hard work. As Messi said, when Barça play like this, they can win the Champions League.
“When we are at our best, no team can beat us”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
The culés played with purpose while finding spaces, first through Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto, then through Nélson Semedo. It was nice seeing the players actually living up to their potential, even though Luis Suárez could have scored more than once. It was a perfect afternoon for Barça, as they played some exquisite football while Messi broke the assists record in one season in La Liga. That chipped ball to Ansu Fati, and that run by the youngster, were just superb. It was champagne football, especially with the third goal, where Messi, Alba and Suárez combined for a great strike reminiscent of the liquid style Barcelona used to play.
“We are leaving with better feelings to think ahead about the Champions League”
For once, Barça followed their great first half with an identical second. Same intensity, same purpose, same ball rotation. Everything was free-flowing and fluid, and the Catalans added two goals, with Riqui Puig assisting twice in total. These were Puig’s first two assists in the league. However, it was too little too late to show that kind of character in La Liga. For the Champions League, though, playing like this will be key to play big dogs like Bayern, Manchester City or Real Madrid.
Standout performer: Riqui Puig
Lionel Messi is the Man of the Match, but my standout performer would be Riqui Puig. Why?
The La Masía graduate created three big chances. It is the first time since April 2018 that a player not named Messi has created three big opportunities or more for Barça. This stat is worrying, but Riqui has erased it from the history books. The Spaniard was everywhere, as he ran miles and miles on the pitch while not looking remotely tired at all. Also, his two assists, the first to Leo and the second to Nélson Semedo, were two line-breaking passes into dangerous positions and he put his teammates into marvellous areas before shooting.
Riqui has undoubtedly cemented his place in the first team for the Champions League and next season. If he can replicate his stellar form, he will be one of Barça’s most valuable assets.
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.