Barcelona will go into the international break in fifth place in the La Liga table thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Alavés in the Basque Country. Barça played a poor game and never looked like scoring, but Frenkie De Jong provided a crucial late winner to keep Barça in strong position to contend for the Top 4.
The story of the first half was very simply Barça’s inability to sustain attacks: the Blaugrana did a good job throughout the period of moving the ball from back to front and escaping Alavés’ press, but the decision-making in the final third was just awful.
It is unfair to single out one player, but Sergio Busquets was particularly bad in the first half. The captain killed multiple promising attacks with some really sloppy passes, and he made simple mistakes that put the back four in some really tricky situations. The people in front of Busquets didn’t help either, with the front three also making bad decisions up front and not being able to create a real chance.
Alavés were pretty average throughout the half but ended up with the best chance of the period when Ferran Torres lost the ball in midfield which launched a quick counter-attack, and Pere Pons found himself one-on-one with Marc-André ter Stegen but shot it straight at the Barça keeper.
At halftime, a wasteful Barça went into the break knowing they needed to improve their play in the final third to find the goals in the second half and win the game.
The second half featured more of the same: Barça continued to dominate possession and either do nothing with it or waste their best moments with poor decision-making. They had one clear-cut chance when Pedri sent a free-kick into the box and found Luuk De Jong all alone inside the six-yard box with only the goalkeeper to beat, but the Dutch striker shot it right at Pacheco’s feet and missed the biggest chance of the game up to that point.
As we reached the final 10 minutes it felt as though Barça would let two points slip through their fingers, but the visitors stepped up their urgency and finally found the breakthrough: with three minutes to go, Jordi Alba played a beautiful ball over the top to pick up a fantastic run by Ferran Torres, and the Barça forward then found a wide-open Frenkie De Jong who couldn’t miss from eight yards and gave Barça a late lead.
The Blaugrana did a good job running out the clock but had to deal with a last-second corner from Alavés that produced a free header, but Ter Stegen made the save to ensure all three points.
This was a lot tougher than it needed to be and Barça were their worst enemies all night, but going into the international break they needed to get all three points. That part of the job is done, and now it’s all about working to get better over the next two weeks.
Alavés: Pacheco; Martin, Laguardia, Lejeune, López; Escalante, Pina (Moya 88’); Jason, Pons (De La Fuente 72’), Rioja (Méndez 90+1’); Joselu
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Dest, Piqué, Araujo, Alba; Pedri (Lenglet 90+1’), Busquets, F. De Jong; Ferran, L. De Jong (Jutglà 84’), Ez Abde (Nico 72’)
Goal: F. De Jong (87’)