Barcelona kicked off the New Year with a hard-fought but crucial 1-0 win away to Mallorca on Sunday night to finish the weekend in fifth place in the La Liga table. Barça played as well as they could for a lot of the game and survived a late blitz from the home team to win all three points despite missing 16 players.
Barça could have been forgiven for a poor performance with all of the absences and players forced to be out of position, but considering the circumstances the Blaugrana were quite impressive in the first 45 minutes: dominating possession, working the ball well from side to side, pressing high up the pitch to recover the ball in good positions, and creating scoring chances.
Even though he’s reportedly on his way out in this transfer window, Luuk De Jong looked very committed to the cause and had his best half in a Barça shirt, constantly offering himself as an option on the ball and causing real trouble with his size and movement in the box. Big Luuk hit the post and almost scored a Puskas contender with a bicycle kick into the crossbar within 60 seconds, and his performance really deserved a goal.
And a minute before halftime, he got it: Óscar Mingueza put in a fantastic cross from the right wing and De Jong jumped high into the Son Moix sky to head home the opener. At the half, Barça were deservedly on top but still had work left to do in the second half to finish the job.
Barça knew there were not a lot of options on the bench and that Mallorca would try and up their game for the second half, so the visitors’ job in the final period was to not beat themselves: the Blaugrana had to be smart in possession, organized without the ball, and manage the game as well as possible to confirm the victory.
They did all of that pretty well, with the home team having very little joy when they tried to go forward and Barça having a few good moments in attack as they looked for a second goal. But as we reached the final 10 minutes the game was still very much up for grabs, and Mallorca launched a late blitz to find an equalizer.
The home team certainly had its moments, using set pieces and crosses into the box to create some good opportunities, and the best of them came after a cross from the right found Jaume Costa all alone at the far post to volley it home, but Marc-André ter Stegen made a spectacular reflex save to keep Barça ahead.
Mallorca kept pushing in the dying seconds but couldn’t find the back of the net, and the final whistle came to give Barça all three points in dramatic fashion. Under different circumstances this wouldn’t have been a victory to be excited about, but to play as well as Barça did for most of the match with all of the absence is something to be happy about and the team deserves a lot of praise for how hard they fought to keep a clean sheet with the late pressure. The spirit is clearly there, and the football continues to improve under Xavi. Evolution.
Mallorca: Reina; Maffeo, Russo, Valjent, Costa; Baba (De Galarreta 61’), Battaglia (Prats 84’); Lee (Llabres 70’), Rodríguez, Sánchez (Mboula 70’); Ángel (NIño 61’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza (Lenglet 76’), Piqué, Eric, Araujo; Nico (Sanz 71’), F. De Jong, Puig; Akhomach (Estanis 80’), L. De Jong, Jutglà
Goal: L. De Jong (44’)