Barcelona squeezed a critical win over Porto on Tuesday night courtesy of goals from Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix. The pressure was very much on Xavi and his men ahead of kickoff, but the Azulgranas did not allow the factor to influence their performance.
The first half did not do justice to the quality Xavi’s side had on the field, but their performance after the break was much improved. With this win, the Blaugranas have turned their situation around ahead of the critical fixtures against Atletico Madrid and Girona.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Barcelona 2-1 Porto.
Tuesday night’s win was much needed from Barcelona’s point of view. For a team in jeopardy and drowning in pressure, it does not get more reassuring than a comeback UEFA Champions League win.
The Catalans were far from perfect against the Portuguese champions and were under pressure, especially in the first half. However, their performance after the break was one of the best they have shown in recent weeks.
There has not been much to celebrate about Barcelona’s games in recent times. Their wins have been scrappy, with defeats and draws no longer drawing an element of surprise. Last night’s win, on that front, is a big confidence booster to the dressing room and serves as a mental reset ahead of two equally critical clashes.
For starters, Inaki Pena was one of the team’s standout performers on the night as he rose to the occasion with four saves from inside the box. The defence looked far more reassuring with Ronald Araujo, Inigo Martinez, and Jules Kounde part of the back four.
Pedri and Frenkie de Jong looked far closer to their best versions, albeit still tangibly away from their pinnacles. Nevertheless, they appeared in control in the middle of the park and compensated for Ilkay Gundogan’s day off.
There is still a long way to go for Xavi’s men, but they appear to be on the right track towards resurgence. The coming games will give a clearer picture of where they stand on that front.
Over the years, Barcelona players and fans grew accustomed to extraterrestrial performances on the biggest of stages. Be it Lionel Messi who did so with impeccable regularity or the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar Jr., or Jordi Alba, the team often had someone to look towards on the darkest of nights.
Joao Cancelo’s display against Porto, in that sense, was one of the team’s first such dominant individual performances since the change in guard.
The Portuguese full-back was absolutely unstoppable and unplayable last night at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys. Playing as a left-back against Porto, he tormented the Portuguese side down the flank time and time again with unprecedented skill and trickery.
At points in the game, the Portuguese international appeared to exude the trademark Brazilian juice with his every touch as he produced moment after moment of magic.
In 82 minutes last night, he had one shot blocked, one interception, four tackles and won a staggering 14 duels. If his defensive numbers were unreal, his attacking numbers were extra-terrestrial.
Cancelo made a stunning five key passes on the night in addition to his direct goal contributions. He recorded six successful dribbles of an attempted total of eight and had four shots on the night.
His biggest contribution, however, came within 90 seconds of Porto’s opener as he single-handedly made his way into the opponent’s box and completed a stunning solo equaliser. Notably, he also had a big part to play in Barcelona’s eventual winner in the second half.
Through to the knockouts
The UEFA Champions League quickly became Barcelona’s biggest nemesis in recent years. At one point, it was unthinkable that the Catalans could ever suffer group-stage elimination. Yet, the last two years had that very humiliation written in the team’s stars.
For two years, the players and the manager endured the brunt of the media for their lacklustre showing in the competition. Injuries, suspensions, high-pressure situations, and a generally weak mentality did not help their cause.
Tuesday night’s win over Porto could essentially thus be one of Barcelona’s most important and cherished victories in recent times.
Having taken all three points, the Blaugranas are officially through to the knockout stages of the UCL for the first time in three seasons. They have managed to do the same with four wins in five games, an accomplishment that must not be downplayed considering the team’s general situation.
Another significant sequel of the win at Montjuic is that Xavi’s side are guaranteed the table-top spot in Group H. They sit on 12 points and have a three-point gap over second-placed Porto. Even a win against Shakhtar would bring Porto on level terms with Barcelona in the worst case, in which case head-to-head results will serve as the tiebreaker.