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
3 lessons learned from Sevilla 0-2 Barcelona — Koeman’s changes win the game for Barça
Barcelona’s 2-0 victory over Sevilla might be Ronald Koeman’s biggest triumph as the Catalans’ coach. Of course, this by itself won’t win him anything just yet, but it could be the start of something big. With the new three points in the bag, the Azulgranas are now in second place, trailing behind the league leaders by only two points.
And it’s performances like the ones earlier this afternoon that can make us hopeful once again. Sevilla are an incredibly well-drilled team that’s also competing for the European spots in La Liga so taking them down with such dominance will surely both boost the morale and lay the groundwork for Barcelona’s future games.
But what exactly did we learn from today’s game?
1. Koeman’s changes paid off
It was quite bizarre of the coach not to change a single thing in the match that followed the disaster against Paris Saint-Germain. And naturally, when you do the same things over and over again but expect change, people will start doubting you. Luckily, however, Koeman has decided to innovate after all.
Today, we saw not only a change in the personnel but also in the system as well. The three in the back structure in attack and a 5-3-2 formation in defence with an aggressive press worked out beautifully. The team was highly effective at suffocating the opposition and not letting them play their game.
Sevilla were mostly pinned down in their own half and Julen Lopetegui’s troops had to rely on long balls to progress the play. Needless to say, despite having a clear target-man up top, that was never going to be a reliable strategy.
We are always quick to judge Koeman and his decisions so now, we have to give credit where it’s due and say his changes truly paid off. Whether this success was due to the tactics, the structure or the opposition’s lacking approach remains to be seen.
But this is a start and something to build upon. It’s important they don’t stop now.
2. Ousmane Dembele responds to his critics
Ousmane Dembele’s improvement has been palpable this season. The French winger has grown immensely and is finally turning into the player Barcelona need him to be: fast, lethal, decisive and most importantly, available week in, week out.
However, that hasn’t been the case throughout the whole campaign. Even though 2020/21 has seen him play a big number of games so far, and despite his dazzling displays, there was something missing in his performances. The spark was always there and that won’t change but we needed more.
Some of the clear chances he had missed haunted the team and while he isn’t the only one to be blamed for often being indecisive, that was his major weakness. But this Dembele is exactly what Barcelona had hoped for and more.
Ousmane Dembele has scored three goals vs Sevilla, more than vs any La Liga opponent in all competitions, involving in four out his last six games vs the Andalusian side.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 27, 2021
— Opta pic.twitter.com/vlRehokOBZ
This Dembele is a nightmare to mark and also deadly when in on goal. Earlier today, Sevilla experienced it first hand and now it’s all about building on this performance and ensuring it’s not just a one-game thing.
If the young winger can regularly provide for the team, there may be a bright future for him at the Camp Nou yet. And maybe it has something to do with his new central role, which was also one of Koeman’s innovations on the day.
It will be interesting to see where this takes him next.
3. Hay Liga
We started this article with a positive and we’ll end it with one as well. After such a brilliant display and a victory against a strong opponent, maybe we are now allowed to hope once more. Of course, Atletico Madrid are just two points ahead of Barcelona at the moment but have also played two games fewer than the Catalans.
This means the path towards the title is still very difficult and long. But at the same time, if this team can start taking scalps off of bigger teams and finally stand their ground, there truly may be a league to fight for after all.
Still, let’s not jump the gun here. We are allowed to be optimistic and should always be, even in the face of certain defeat. But it’s also important to take things slowly and not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of football to be played and a lot of points to be taken.
This team has shown us that they have the strength and the ability to win games and do it with style. But it’s all about that consistency now.
Can Barcelona keep the ball rolling and keep this good feeling alive? We can only hope so.
And then, who knows. After all, one can dream, right?