Lewandowski can’t come back soon enough
Barcelona’s win over Girona showed yet again that the team can win without top scorer Robert Lewandowski but there’s no doubt that he will be welcomed back with open arms after completing his suspension.
Xavi’s side have secured three 1-0 wins without Lewandowski in the starting XI and the last two, against Girona and Getafe, have been on the ugly side. Yet they’ve also seemed like the type of wins you need if you’re going to finish top of the pile.
❤ Xavi's @FCBarcelona carry on climbing... #TheFansGame | @socios pic.twitter.com/7r6BsppqrG— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) January 28, 2023
Pedri and Ousmane Dembele have scored the goals in Lewandowski’s absence, and the Frenchman’s injury is another reason why Barcelona will be delighted to have the Poland international back next time out.
Barcelona have struggled to kill games off all season, particularly without Lewandowski, but with the striker back in action Xavi will be hoping his side can become a little more clinical in front of goal.
Pedri’s stylish century
Pedri was supposed to be putting his feet up against Girona but was called midway through the first half after Dembele was forced off. The midfielder’s arrival meant he made his 100th appearance for the club and he’s still only 20. Yep, you read that right.
It’s a remarkable achievement for a remarkable player and he went on to crown the moment with the only goal of the game. Pedri keeps on telling us he’s been told to score more and he is starting to do exactly that.
The midfielder has three in his last four, six for the season, and the stats show just how much he has improved in front of goal since Xavi took charge of the club.
1 - @Pedri has scored the 72.7% of their shots on target in @LaLigaEn since Xavi arrival to @FCBarcelona's bench (8/11), the highest ratio among the players with at least six goals scored in this period. Effective. pic.twitter.com/V5BhZGLmwH— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 28, 2023
“The truth is it was a special game for me,” he told Barca TV after the match. “Xavi went with a different line-up to start. But we had some bad luck with Dembele’s injury. I hope he gets back quickly. The goal is great, it’s a great way to celebrate the occasion.”
Who will replace Dembele?
Barcelona’s win was overshadowed somewhat by Ousmane Dembele’s injury. The Frenchman has been vital to the team this season but now faces a number of weeks on the sidelines.
Xavi has options to replace the forward and it will be interesting to see what he does next, particularly as Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres and Raphinha are finding it difficult to make much of an impact currently.
The Barcelona boss could always move to four midfielders again. The system has certainly served him well already this season and brought in some impressive results against Atletico and Real Madrid.
Perhaps the most obvious choice is to trust in Raphinha. The Brazilian is enduring an increasingly difficult first season at the Camp Nou but now has a golden chance to show what he can do.
Clean sheet count continues
Barcelona’s clean sheet count contines to tick upwards with another one in the bag against Girona. That’s now 14 from 18 this season in La Liga and still just six goals conceded. It really is something else.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen produced another strong display but also needed Ronald Araujo to make a vital clearance and Girona’s Ivan Martin to miss a sitter to preserve his clean sheet on Saturday.
Barcelona can boast the best defence in Europe, yep you read that right, and it’s the solid foundation that the team’s title charge is being based on. Yes they have needed a bit of luck at times but maybe they’ve earned that.
Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen have both been superb signings while Eric Garcia also came in from the cold against Girona and received some praise from Xavi.
“I think Eric García played a great game, especially in the second half,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in him. I have said it many times.”
The stats agree with Xavi too. Eric ended the game with a 92% pass accuracy rate, made the most tackles and completed the most passes. There was probably also a giant sigh of relief after he got away with a little grappling match with Stuani in the penalty area that on another day could have been a penalty.
Jordi Alba’s not done yet
One of the keys to Barcelona’s win was Xavi’s decision to swap Marcos Alonso for Jordi Alba at half-time. The Catalans had lacked width in the first half and the change certainly paid off as Alba produced the assist from which Pedri scored.
Alba’s had to be patient this season, after seeing Alonso arrive and then being benched by Alejandro Balde, but he showed against Girona that he does have plenty still to offer Barcelona.
Xavi explained after the match that Ousmane Dembele’s injury saw him change his game plan at half-time and was one of the reasons Alba was brought on for the second 45 minutes.
Balde still seems Barcelona’s best option at left-back this season but Alba isn’t done quite yet.