Barcelona added one more game to their already impressive perfect run to start the season, deservedly taking three points from their short trip to Girona. Of the three goals scored, two were scored by Girona players, sadly for the home fans, both went into their own net. The lone goal-scorer from Barcelona’s side was Luis Suarez.
Both managers decided to rotate to some extent for the first Primera Division Catalan derby between the two sides. Ernesto Valverde left Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique on the bench. Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal received starts on the right side of the pitch, while Paulinho started again in midfield.
Barcelona started the match in commanding fashion, dominating possession and they quickly created their first half chance of the match. Vidal was played through on the right side of the penalty area and sent a hopeful ball to the other post destined for the waiting Suarez, but Gorka Iraizoz was able to stop the pass. Moments later, Suarez beat Iraizoz with an audacious lob, but the play was whistled dead for offside.
But while Barcelona looked dominant in the early going, Girona looked very dangerous on the counter attack. The hosts tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen for the first time in the 12th minute, when Douglas Luiz fired from distance, but the German was able to make a diving stop. Michael Olunga saw his rebound try saved as well, but the even had he scored the goal wouldn’t have counted due to an offside call.
Barcelona quickly turned the tables once again, springing Suarez behind the defense for a one-on-one with Iraizoz just moments later. The Uruguayan dribbled past the former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper, but strayed into a position from which he couldn’t take a shot. Suarez was also unable to find a teammate for what would’ve been an empty-netter.
Two minutes later, however, in the 17th minute, Barcelona drew first blood. It all started with a long range free kick that was well taken by Messi, but saved by Iraizoz. From the ensuing corner kick, Barcelona drew a set play, with Messi sending a long ball to the far edge of the area to Jordi Alba. Alba’s half-volley went wide of target but into traffic where Aday reacted poorly and the ball redirected into the back of the net. With Girona playing a very open, attacking game, an early goal was exactly what Barcelona needed.
An intense midfield battle followed, as while both sides looked to attack, though Barcelona more often, the opposing defenses made numerous excellent tackles. Girona looked to press high up the pitch, but more often than not, Barcelona didn’t have a tough time breaking through their midfield ranks. Breaking through the defensive ranks was a tougher task and Barcelona didn’t take a good shot on goal until the 35th minute when Alba was again in action, but Iraizoz made an excellent save. In the 36th, Rakitić unleashed one from distance, but his shot was tipped out for a corner kick. Barça threatened from the second of the two corners that followed, but Paulinho couldn’t direct the ball on target.
The remaining 10 minutes of the half were very similar to the middle stretch of the half, as both teams attacked with numbers, but neither side was able to test the opposing goalkeeper. No time was added on by referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez and the two sides went to the dressing rooms as soon as the 45 minutes were over.
Barcelona came charging out of the gate, looking to create a larger cushion and they did just that two minutes after the restart. Suarez found the onrushing Vidal to his right, who showed some excellent football IQ, creating a chance out of nothing. He back-heeled the ball goalwards where Suarez jumped over the ball, completely fooling Iraizoz who redirected the ball behind his back to double Barcelona’s lead.
Girona, however, wouldn’t throw in the towel, quickly threatening on the other side, but the header went over the crossbar. Shortly thereafter, in the 55th minute, Girona came close once again, this time after a corner kick with Olunga heading the ball on goal, but ter Stegen was in the perfect position to make the difficult save. The hosts continued to show their attacking aspirations with their first substitution, as manager Pablo Machín replaced Olunga with Larry Kayode.
With Barcelona often looking out of sync, Girona slowly increased pressure on Barcelona, but the Blaugrana defense did very well to prevent scoring chances. But even though the defense forced numerous turnovers, Barcelona struggled mightily to get anything going on the counter attack. The area where the visitors struggled the most was not getting caught offside. After one hour of play, Girona caught Barcelona offside an incredible eleven times, and finished the game with an impressive fourteen. While some of those calls could’ve gone either way, Barcelona won’t be able to get away with such play often.
A grueling schedule in mind, Valverde pulled Paulinho to the bench in the 66th minute and replaced him with Sergio Busquets. Three minutes later, Barcelona finally launched an attack that wasn’t blown dead for offside, and immediately increased their lead. Roberto played a perfect ball into the path of Suarez who went one-on-one against Iraizoz. Even though Suarez is the middle of poor run, he would not make a mistake this time, slotting the ball past Iraizoz.
After conceding for the third time Girona’s press understandably faded. Their search for a consolidation goal, however, remained. With the remainder of the game a mere formality, Valverde made two more changes with ten minutes left on the clock. Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes took the places of Andres Iniesta and Vidal.
Girona’s quest for the consolidation goal was a valiant one, but even against an energy-conserving Barcelona defense the hosts couldn’t score. They came close on a couple occasions, as Portu especially was having an excellent game offensively, but in the end it wasn’t meant to be.
On the other side, Barcelona had a couple last gasp chances. First one came from a well-positioned free kick, but Messi’s shot was off target. The second on a quick counter, but Messi’s pass was just out of reach of Denis who couldn’t connect for the tip in.
With the final whistle coming quickly after the latter of the two Barcelona chances, Barcelona extended their perfect start to the season and managed to rest some of their key players as well. With another quick turnaround for Barcelona, with a visit to Portugal coming up on Wednesday, all the energy Barcelona players managed to conserve today could come very handy in the future.