Barcelona say goodbye to the Champions League
Barcelona bowed out of the Champions League with a 4-2 win at Viktoria Plzen as the Czech side were beaten for the sixth time in six group games.
The game looked over as soon as Marcos Alonso poked Ansu Fati’s shot over the line after just six minutes but the hosts did rally which made for an entertaining dead rubber.
Xavi's analysis of the win at Viktoria Plzeň pic.twitter.com/9INNI61KvH— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 2, 2022
Xavi had made plenty of changes to his side with Franck Kessie, Pablo Torre, and Inaki Pena all handed starts along with Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.
Ferran Torres looked to have ended the game as a contest when he made it 2-0, but some generous defending saw the two sides share six goals and Barca win 4-2.
Xavi’s side now bid farewell to the Champions League for another season and face a qualifier to make it into the last 16 of the Europa League.
It might not be entirely straightforward either with teams such as Manchester United, PSV, surprise Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin and Monaco potential opponents for Barca as things stand.
Inaki Pena debuts for Barcelona
Tuesday’s game saw back-up goalkeer Inaki Pena make his first-team debut for Barcelona, and he had a busier night that he might have expected in the Czech Republic.
The 23-year-old had his woodwork to thank in the opening stages when Plzen saw a free-kick into the box headed onto the crossbar after Barca had started brightly.
22 - Barcelona conceded 22 shots against Viktoria Plzeň , more than in any other game this season in all competitions and their most in a Champions League game since August 2020 against Bayern Munich in Lisbon (26). Relaxation. pic.twitter.com/C5XxoHWWBo— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 1, 2022
Pena was then called into action and had to make a good save from Lukas Kalvac after Pablo Torre had given the ball away on the edge of the area.
The back-up stopper made another good save on the hour when the hosts broke but had to pick the ball out of his net again seconds later when Chory headed home.
It remains to be seen how many more times we’ll see Pena this season. The goalkeeper should feature in the Copa del Rey but Marc-Andre Ter Stegen may return in the Europa League.
Pena’s game time could also affect his future. The stopper is out of contract at the end of the season, although there has been talk of an extension.
Quite whether Pena will want to stay on the bench remains to be seen. He showed last season he was happy to head away in search of game time and could be tempted if decent offers arrive.
Barcelona’s priority must be a right-back
Barcelona keep on being linked with a move for a midfielder in the January transfer window, but it’s blindingly obvious that right-back needs to be the club’s priority if they are to spend in the winter.
Hector Bellerin started on the right of the defence again but put in the sort of performance which simply highlighted how Barca really need to invest in that position.
The former Arsenal man is only just back from injury but was sloppy, guilty of some poor errors and really not up to the standard required by Barcelona.
Bellerin was clearly brought in as a stop-gap option but could be deemed surplus to requirements if Barca do indeed invest in a new right-back in January.
If not you can probably expect to see Jules Kounde or Alejandro Balde at right-back in any games of consequence from now on, with Bellerin only called upon when either player is injured or needs a rest.
Torre goes from villain to hero
Pablo Torre has had to be patient since moving from Racing in the summer and has clearly been eager for minutes all season.
The teenger was in from the start against Viktoria Plzen and certainly had a game to remember for all sorts of reasons.
The 19-year-old nearly gifted a goal to the hosts in the first half when he lost the ball in a dangerous area and will have been relieved to have seen Inaki Pena make the save.
However, he got himself in more trouble after the break with a challenge on Tomas Chory that led to a penalty for the hosts from which they halved the deficit.
Torre made amends in some style though. He thumped home Barca’s fourth of the night with a goal that should do him the world of good.
2 - Pablo Torre (19 years and 212 days) is the second youngest Barcelona player to score on his first start in the Champions League, after Giovani dos Santos in December 2007 vs Stuttgart (18 years and 215 days). Future. pic.twitter.com/MPdvJzSDn0— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 1, 2022
Unfortunately for the youngster it was to be his last action of the game, as he was forced off, although it was later confirmed he’d just been suffering with cramp. However, Tuesday’s match is one Torre will not forget and will offer him hope he can make an impact at Barca this season.
Mixed night for Barca’s frontline
Xavi lined up his team with Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres, and Raphinha in attack – three players who have been on the fringes this season but certainly have plenty to offer.
Fati got Barca going by almost scoring the opening goal. The striker’s shot just needed a touch from Marcos Alonso to make sure.
The 20-year-old did have other chances but his finishing was a little off, and right now it’s hard not to worry about Fati. We all desperately want to see him get back to his best but it’s proving to be a long road back at the moment.
One man who was in the goals was Ferran Torres. We all know Ferran’s finishing can be wayward, and it still was at times, but he now has six for the season for the Catalans, although half of those have come against Viktoria Plzen.
1 - At 22 years and 245 days old, Ferran Torres has become the youngest player to score a brace in his first start for Barcelona in the Champions League. Impact. pic.twitter.com/KxCtJ7d6Zh— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 1, 2022
Raphinha has also struggled recently but this was a much-needed and much improved performance from the Brazilian. He wandered inside and picked out Jordi Alba with a great ball to tee up Ferran Torres to make it 2-0.
The former Leeds man then teed up Torres directly again for Barca’s third of the night before playing another gorgeous ball for Torre for number four for the visitors.
Critics will say it’s only Viktoria Plzen but this was a good game for players like Raphinha and Torres, and youngsters Pena, Torre, Marc Casado and Alvaro Sanz, to gain some confidence and get back on track.