Barcelona’s win over Athletic Club on Sunday bore several resemblances to their midweek demolition of Villarreal. Both games saw a flurry of goals within ten minutes that put the hosts three goals clear in the first half and hence virtually sealed the result.
Ousmane Dembele, Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski struck in the first half before Ferran Torres put the game to bed in the second half with a fourth goal.
Ernesto Valverde would have hoped for a better result returning to the stadium where he won the league title twice, but his men were simply overpowered and outplayed on the night. It was one of Barcelona’s most dominant games of the season and the visitors had almost no chance throughout the ninety minutes.
Barca Universal brings you three talking points from the Azulgranas‘ landslide win over Athletic Club Bilbao at Spotify Camp Nou.
1. The tactical throw-off
Former Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde was in for an unpleasant surprise before the kickoff. Like many others, the coach expected Barcelona to lineup in a traditional 4-3-3 with two wide wingers on the night, but little did he know that Xavi Hernandez had a trick up his sleeve.
In a novel attempt, the manager started just two forwards against Athletic Club – Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembele. In return, he got the liberty to deploy an extra midfielder on the field, giving him room to start Gavi, Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Serio Busquets.
The formation was a 4-4-2 on paper, but a 4-3-3 in spirit and it was this very intricacy that gave the hosts the edge.
Pedri started the game as a left-winger but eventually dropped into a deeper role. In the new formation, the team had a solid defensive structure with a double pivot with two more bodies in the middle of the park to orchestrate the attacks.
After the match, Valverde admitted that he and his team were thrown off by Xavi’s decision to field four midfielders and it was evident by how uncomfortable the Basque side looked at Camp Nou. If anything, the tactical masterstroke is a testament to Xavi’s deep understanding of the dynamics of the game.
2. All hail the prince
There is not much debate as to who Barcelona’s best player was on Sunday night. With a goal and three assists to his name, Ousmane Dembele wreaked havoc in the Basque side’s box and single-handedly decimated their defence.
Ousmane Dembélé vs Athletic:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) October 23, 2022
– 77 minutes played
– 68 touches
– 1 goal
– 3 assists
– 4 chances created
– 2 big chances created
– 2 dribbles
– 3 passes into the final third pic.twitter.com/XxV1D3gm0z
He opened the scoring with a rather rare header in the 12th minute from a Robert Lewandowski cross. Interestingly, the move began with Dembele’s dribble and shot which eventually fell loose at the Pole’s feet.
Minutes later, he played a lovely ball to Sergi Roberto for the second before once against splitting the opposition defence cleanly for Lewandowski’s goal.
His assist for Barcelona’s fourth, however, was a treat to the eyes. The Frenchman picked up the ball on the right, made a slaloming run through the Athletic defence and played a sumptuous through-ball to Ferran Torres directly in front of the goal.
In addition to his goal contributions, Dembele had three shots on target, four key passes, two successful dribbles, and completed 100% of his attempted long balls. Talk about taking a game by its scruff.
3. Better late than never
After a dry couple of weeks, Barcelona’s free-flowing natural football is well and truly back. While some might say that the damage has already been done, it is better late than never.
The Blaugrana may have lost all hope in the UEFA Champions League with their poor games against Inter Milan. Yet, the La Liga title is within their grasp and they trail the leaders Real Madrid by only three points.
The team now host Bayern Munich midweek in a clash whose result may not stand to count for much. Yet, a win over the Bavarians would be a loud announcement to Europe that Barcelona’s elimination from the UCL was a consequence of injuries and that they still belong in the elite.
With their pride at stake, the Catalans must come out all guns blazing on Wednesday to see off the Bavarians. Not only would it do away with the team’s ‘chokers’ tag but also give them a massive boost in their run for the league title.