Lewandowski late show rescues Barcelona
Barcelona had Robert Lewandowski to thank once again for victory on Saturday.
The game against Valencia had been heading for a goalless draw, and more costly missed points, until the Poland international won it in stoppage time.
13 - Robert Lewandowski has scored 13 goals in 12 games for Barcelona in LaLiga. The last player to score more in his first 12 games of a season in the competition was Cristiano Ronaldo with Real Madrid in 2014/15 (20 goals). Treasure. pic.twitter.com/LN4m4F5Tuj— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 29, 2022
It wasn’t an easy finish either. Pedri did brilliantly in the build-up and Raphinha teased the cross in but Lewandowski still had to beat Giorgi Mamardashvili on the stretch.
That’s now 18 for the season for Barcelona’s summer signing, who is also six clear at the top of the Pichichi standings in Spain after his latest effort.
Lewandowski’s goal will also help raise morale after midweek disappointment in Europe and sends the team top of the table ahead of Real Madrid’s game with Girona.
More injuries for Barcelona
Barcelona’s injury curse continued on Saturday night with center-backs Eric Garcia and Jules Kounde both going off after picking up knocks.
The injuries meant Barca finished the game with a makeshift defense that saw Gerard Pique playing alongside three left-backs in Marcos Alonso, Alejandro Balde, and Jordi Alba.
Pique didn’t even have his boots on when he was summoned and needed a little help from Sergio Busquets before he made it onto the pitch.
Gerard Piqué had a knot in his boot's laces just before coming on. Sergio Busquets had to fix it for him. pic.twitter.com/35m2k3NYUD— barcacentre (@barcacentre) October 29, 2022
Xavi played down the duo’s injuries after the match but will be sweating on the fitness of both players ahead of his team’s final few fixtures before the World Cup.
The boss won’t be too concerned about the next game against Viktoria Plzen, given Barca are already out, but will want his side to take maximum points against Almeria and Osasuna.
Barca can then regroup during the World Cup and restart in December, hopefully with Ronald Araujo available again, in a strong position in La Liga.
Raphinha makes an impact
Raphinha started on the bench for the fourth game in a row against Valencia but did come on and make an impact for the Catalan giants.
The Brazil international created Lewandowski’s winner to pick up just his second assist in 15 games in all competitions for Barcelona.
"You have to fight until the end"— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 30, 2022
— Raphinha reacts to #ValenciaBarça pic.twitter.com/LrMNfjxnwa
It was an important moment for the summer signing who has been struggling to live up to his lofty transfer fee this season since arriving from Leeds United.
Raphinha spoke about his team’s fighting spirit after the match and certainly showed plenty of desire in a performance which could earn him a start next time out.
Barca hit clean sheet record
Saturday’s match brought yet another clean sheet for Barcelona and a new record when it comes to goals conceded in La Liga.
Xavi’s side have kept an impressive 10 clean sheets in their first 12 league games, something that has never been done before in the Spanish top flight.
That record was in jeopardy when Samuel Lino put the ball in the back of the net, but VAR came to Barca’s rescue and showed there had been a handball before the goal was scored.
10 - Barcelona have kept 10 clean sheets in their 12 games in LaLiga in 2022/23 (W10 D1 L1), registering the most sheet sheets for any team after their first 12 games of a season in the competition's history. Fortress. pic.twitter.com/VasgMSPJd3— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 29, 2022
Barca’s clean sheet record comes at a time when Xavi is being forced to field a patched-up defense on an almost weekly basis because of injuries which bodes well for the future.
Xavi made changes to his backline once again on Saturday, with Alejandro Balde once again catching the eye even when playing out of position at right-back.
Xavi still searching for right mix
Pedri and Lewandowski also shone against Valencia but overall it was a frustrating performance from the visitors who continue to lack consistency.
The injury situation in defense is one reason why Barcelona are a little hit and miss right now but Xavi is also searching for the right mix all over the pitch.
POV: Marcas en el último minuto pic.twitter.com/iiOK2cwLPL— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona_es) October 29, 2022
Sergio Busquets put in another underwhelming performance in midfield, while Ousmane Dembele looked a shadow of the player who destroyed Athletic Club.
Ansu Fati also missed the type of chance you suspect he’d have gobbled up pre-injury, so too Ferran although his movement did create space for Lewandowski’s goal.
Xavi’s Gala XI did seem pretty clear a few weeks ago but the inconsistency of his forwards along with question marks over Busquets mean it’s not longer quite so obvious.