That’s three for three 1-0 victories for Barcelona in the absence of Robert Lewandowski.
Mission accomplished, and most of us won’t be too picky about how it happened.
Still on top of the league, a Supercopa trophy in the bank, and a semi-final date in the Copa del Rey.
This has been a fantastic month of January from a results point of view, and Xavi and his men are proving to be more pragmatic than I certainly would have expected.
And yet, as the calendar turns to February, there are big questions that need to be answered with a hectic domestic fixture list, and massive Europa and Copa games coming up.
The return of Robert Lewandowski inevitably means the return of goals. Unfortunately, there is a dependency there with backup forwards Ansu Fati, Raphinha, and Ferran Torres failing to step up, and seize a massive personal opportunity, while the Pole was away.
It was, however, encouraging to see Pedri and Ousmane Dembele get on the scoring sheet.
Furthermore, without their world class striker, Xavi deserves credit for his creativity in using an alternative four midfielder system.
With Dembele injured now, Barcelona’s method of success is once again being challenged.
Hopefully he won’t be out for too long, but even a few weeks of games could make or break the season if the team can’t adapt.
Now, more than ever, Xavi will have to ask himself whether bigger tactical and structural changes are needed.
Using the extra midfielder wasn’t revolutionary. It was a small tactical change that, at the end of the day, didn’t upend the system in a significant way.
It was still a 4-3-3 that used Dembele on the wing to stretch the field on one side, a center forward, and a rotation between the fourth midfielder and the left-back to occupy the left wing as they saw fit.
Will Xavi and Barcelona carry on now and just hope someone fills Dembele’s shoes?
Maybe at this point, the continuation of dropping the extra winger is more important than ever.
If you don’t, the next man up is Raphinha, and he’s going to be given a big run of games to show what he can do.
Maybe that’s just what he needs to get going, but Xavi won’t have a whole lot of patience if he’s not seeing consistent performances on the pitch.
Pair him with Lewandowski through the middle, and Ansu Fati on left (his natural position finally), and maybe the trio can develop some goal scoring chemistry.
Otherwise, the Brazilian is the odd man out if the formation changes.
If you’re going to go with a two striker lineup, pairing Lewandowski with Ansu or Ferran Torres makes more sense since they are more flexible with their style of play.
Still, it’s disappointing that no one took advantage of the opportunity with the main man out.
The team survived, but now that another protagonist has exited the stage, there is another chance to step up, and the manager will have no choice but to give everyone another tryout.
Will Xavi regret letting Memphis Depay leave?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a natural winger like Ez Abde around at a time like this?
We can debate all of this, but there’s no time look back.
There’s so much on the line, and the games are coming thick and fast.
Xavi will need to find creative solutions, and the players will need to continue to find a way on the pitch.
If they can do it without their primary goal scorer, they can do it without their main creator.
The defense looks primed and ready to take on the challenge.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is at the height of his superpowers again.
But to make it across the finish line in La Liga and beyond, this team will need goals.
The return of Lewandowski will be influential, but he’ll need others to help out.
For all the other forwards, their Barcelona futures will depend on being able to find the back of the net.
The time is now to see who can do the job.
Ferran? Ansu? Raphinha?
Who will it be?