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Three talking points from Barcelona 0-0 Benfica

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Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

The bright lights shone upon a wet and chilly Camp Nou, the grandest stage in world football ready for another decisive encounter, this time against Benfica. With a win, Barcelona were through to the Champions League Round of 16. A draw or loss would leave all marbles to be played another day.

After a hard-fought 90 minutes, a nil-nil draw may not have satisfied either team, but there was plenty for fans to takeaway. Looking back at the match, here are Barça Universal’s three takeaways. 

1. Xavi’s plans taking shape

Let’s start with the good – because there was plenty of it from the Blaugrana’s end. Regardless of the optics of failing to score and conceding chances, the opposition should have converted, Xavi’s men are undoubtedly moving in the right direction.

They are, at least relatively speaking, evidently more tactically disciplined, unified, and cohesive, not to mention playing with spirit. This was all clear against Benfica: players instructed to hug the touchline did so just as interiors were tasked with playing in and around the half-spaces.

Taking shape. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

There were also repeated patterns of play that gave the players guidance and the attack a backbone. Defensively, they were organized and efficient, keeping Benfica at bay for most of the proceedings. 

Positively, they also kept focus for the full 90 minutes, contrary to the late game slip-ups against Espanyol. Hopefully, the team can build off this positive performance and continue to implement Xavi’s ideas. 

2. Dynamic Dembele 

Carrying on and looking at other positive takeaways, one can mention a variety of players who impressed on the night. The midfielders including Gavi, Sergio Busquets, Nico Gonzalez, and Frenkie De Jong dominated the middle of the park, and even the backline performed admirably. Nevertheless, let’s focus on Ousmane Dembele, whose presence and impact in the final 25 minutes of the match can not be understated. 

Culés were excited to see him in action due to the high praise Xavi has given him, and he performed well on the night. Yes, he did not finish with a goal contribution or anything eye-opening on the stat sheet, but he consistently asked questions that Benfica’s backline struggled to answer.

Dembele’s fitness can change things for Barcelona. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Isolated in 1v1 situations out wide, Dembele would pounce at the heart of the defence and make crosses into the box. He finished with two dribbles, two shots, and eight crosses – the most of any player on the pitch. 

3. Misfiring Memphis 

Perhaps Barcelona’s most disappointing player on the night was Memphis Depay, who happens to be in the midst of a rough spell for the Catalans. Against Benfica, he looked out of sorts, struggling to make an impact through buildup or in the box, as well as not taking his chances in front of goal.

Memphis performance is best summed up by what happened in the 56th minute. Presented with inarguably the most straightforward chance in the match — barring Seferovic’s howler in the dying minutes, of course — the Dutchman was through on a 1v1 with Benfica keeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, but cut in on his right foot, giving enough time for Nicolas Otamendi to make a crucial tackle.  

Frustrating night for Barcelona’s no. 9. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

The takeaway here is that this continues a string of subpar performances that have to turn around sooner rather than later. Memphis does not have to be Barcelona’s talisman, or necessarily “carry” the team, but at least he should be a more involved presence in the final third.

Throughout my life of constant change, one thing has never faltered: my love for FC Barcelona. Whether through watching every game, listening to pundits, or playing FIFA and Football Manager, I've always wanted an outlet to express my passion for the team. Barça Universal gives me the perfect opportunity to do so, as I can combine my love of writing with my love of Barça and the sport.

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  1. Cristian R.

    24/11/2021 at 15:42

    The problem with Depay is not that he was wasteful in this game, but that he is wasteful in general, it’s a chronic condition that cannot go overlooked for too long, he wastes way much more that he produces, and with this kind of poor output we cannot score goals and progress as a team. Often times we see him taking corners instead of being in front of the goal.

    We desperately need a real striker who does not lose possession and with a decent conversion rate.

    • Moez

      24/11/2021 at 16:37

      Depay’s issue is a pb of self confidence. Depay is surely not a world top 5 stricker, but he’s not as bad as he was yesterday and against espanol.
      I am pretty sure Xavi and his team are working on :
      1/ help him recover his self confidence
      2/ find a better offensive animation (with FdJ for instance) to help Depay
      3/ find another stricker in the mid-season, as Luuk de Jong, Aguerro are out.

  2. Alex

    24/11/2021 at 17:29

    Barca need a top striker and should try get at least one in January