Barca restore confidence ahead of PSG
Barcelona bounced back from midweek disappointment against Sevilla in some style with a big win that sets the team up nicely for Tuesday’s visit from PSG in the Champions League.
It was a good night for Ronald Koeman too. The manager was able to rest some players, while the youngsters that came in did a good job and earned some precious minutes.
Ilaix Moriba enjoyed a memorable debut, and was one of five La Masia products on the pitch, while Riqui Puig is improving and earned rare praise from Koeman after the match.
“He is improving many things. He always shows his confidence and puts his energy in. He played a great game.”
The Barca attack is also really clicking and produced some quality moments, although Koeman must be concerned about his defense that gave up another poor goal.
Three in two for Trincao
Francisco Trincao had to wait 27 games for his first Barca goal last time out against Betis but found the net again on Saturday night and probably should have ended up with the match ball.
The youngster broke the deadlock after Ilaix showed great composure to tee him up in the penalty area and then made it 3-1 with another good finish after Messi was denied.
He could have scored more too. Fernando Pacheco made a good save from the Portugal international, when he probably should have passed to Iliax, while another goal was ruled out for offside.
It’s a vast improvement from Trincao who must now be brimming with confidence and could prove to be a very useful option for Koeman ahead of some important games at home and abroad.
Messi in great form ahead of UCL
Trincao wasn’t the only Barca player to bag a brace against Alaves, as Messi warmed up for Tuesday’s visit from PSG in some style with a couple of brilliant goals.
The captain had a goal harshly ruled out for a marginal offside by Antoine Griezmann but didn’t let that bother him. His first was typical Messi as he went past his defender and smashed a clinical finish past Pacheco and in off both posts.
Most games with 2+ goals from outside the box in the last 3 La Liga seasons:— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 13, 2021
Leo Messi: 4
Rest of La Liga: 2
We are not worthy. pic.twitter.com/TOMS4axV4d
The captain’s second was another glorious strike from range that made it 15 for the season, in La Liga, just one behind Luis Suarez, on what was a record-equalling 505th league outing for the Catalan giants.
Messi’s now scored in five league games in a row for the first time in April 2019 and looks in great shape ahead of the return of the Champions League.
Ilaix debuts with an assist
Saturday’s match was also a memorable one for 18-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba who was handed his La Liga debut in midfield.
The teenager took just 29 minutes to pick up his first La Liga assist, showing great composure to lay the ball off to Trincao to whip the ball home and break the deadlock.
18y & 25d - Ilaix Moriba has become the youngest player to have provided an assist in his maiden game in #LaLiga this century (18 years & 25 days). Premiere@FCBarcelona #BarcelonaAlaves #Barca pic.twitter.com/cphKS2QtPu— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 13, 2021
Overall it was a good performance from the youngster, apart from a poor moment in the second half when he gifted the ball to Alaves to pull a goal back.
Fortunately, it did not prove to be a costly error for the youngster, who admitted after the game he kept thinking about his mistake, something he will no doubt learn from.
Who plays at center-back against PSG?
Barca may have enjoyed a comprehensive win but this game once again highlighted the team’s frailty in defense, and Luis Rioja’s goal means it’s now six games without a clean sheet for the Catalans.
The Barca defense will surely be giving Koeman plenty to think about ahead of Tuesday’s visit from PSG. Neymar may be missing but Kylian Mbappe will surely be relishing taking on Barca’s injury-hit backline.
Frenkie de Jong lined up alongside Clement Lenglet in central defense on Saturday, but Koeman will surely want the Dutchman back in midfield on Tuesday when PSG visit the Camp Nou.
Lenglet still looks short of confidence in what’s been a tough season for the Frenchman, while Samuel Umtiti has been hot and cold this season since returning to fitness.
Oscar Mingueza, who put in another fine shift at right-back, is also an option to move back into central defense. And then there’s Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo.
Pique joined group training on Sunday and may indeed be an option, although he’s not featured since November. There is also a big question mark over Araujo. Koeman will surely love to have the Uruguayan available, and the defender is reportedly willing to risk his fitness by playing, but it would be a big gamble the Barca boss may not be willing to take.