Barcelona have won their second game in a row in La Liga and remain four points behind leaders Girona going into the final international break of 2023 thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win against Deportivo Alavés at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Sunday evening. Barça were far from their best and could have easily conceded at least three goals after a horrible first half, but found a way to make a second half comeback thanks to a decisive Robert Lewandowski, who provided the only two moments of brilliance on the night and gave Barça three big points they didn’t deserve — once again.
Barça started the game by conceding a goal: 20 seconds into the match, the Blaugrana lost the ball in midfield and Alavés went on a devastating counter-attack that ended with a low cross by Javi López and a nice finish from Samu, and the visitors were off to a dream start almost literally in the blink of an eye.
Alavés sat in a low block looking to press the ball in midfield to win it back quickly, and took every opportunity to counter-attack sending long balls forward to their front players looking to find space in behind Barça’s high line to create more danger on the break.
Barça were terrible on the ball, wasting offensive moves with bad passes and poor decisions in the attacking half and could have easily have been 3-0 down after the opening 15 minutes if not for Samu missing two big chances, including a one-on-one with Marc-André ter Stegen, and the Blaugrana were very lucky to still be in the game after a truly dreadful start.
The Blaugrana finally created a chance with a perfect pass from Gündogan to find Lewandowski all alone in the box with Ronald Araujo next to him ready for an easy tap-in, but the Pole decided to take the chance himself and couldn’t beat the goalkeeper. That was the only real opportunity Barça created for the rest of the period, and the crowd continued to grow in frustration with each poor attacking move by a Barça side that looked completely devoid of ideas with the ball.
The halftime whistle came to end 45 minutes of pathetic football by Barça, who needed a remarkable amount of improvement at the break to have a shot. To earn a point. At home. Against a relegation candidate.
Barça came back with the same 11 players who started the game and pretty much the same attacking structure that didn’t work in the first half, and the team continued to look out of thoughts in the final third even if they did have a little more energy and intensity to their play with and without the ball.
There was still very little reason for encouragement, but one moment of brilliance finally gave Barça hope: Jules Kounde sent a very good cross into the box and Lewandowski scored a gorgeous header to even up the score, give the crowd something to celebrate and give the team 40 minutes to get better and try to find a winner.
Barça didn’t get better and were starting to run out of time to find a winner, so Xavi made three substitutions around the 70th minute with Raphinha, Alejandro Balde and Ferran Torres coming off the bench to try and add some spark to the Blaugrana’s attack.
Raphinha was wasteful with his crosses and Balde was quiet, but Ferran had a real impact off the bench as he made a great run in behind the defense and got to the ball before Alavés center-back Abdel Abqar, who brought down Ferran inside the box and gave away a penalty.
Lewandowski stepped up with confidence and poise and found the roof of the net to give Barça the lead and make the final 15 minutes a lot less tense for the home team, who could now focus on keeping the ball and running out the clock.
The Catalans did not do a very good job of maintaining possession at the end, however, and allowed Alavés to have a couple of dangerous attacking trips as the visitors threw caution to the wind looking for a late equalizer. Kike García had the best chance late in stoppage time and nearly found the back of the net, but the Barça defense managed to protect the lead and secure the victory.
The final whistle came to give Barça all three points, but the result does very little to improve the mood going into the international break. The first half featured some of the worst football Barça have played all season, even worse than the disaster against Shakhtar Donetsk, and the second half was about Lewandowski’s brilliance and nothing else.
Xavi Hernández has two big weeks ahead of him to try and find the right formula to make Barça play well again. If they’ve struggled this badly to beat a relegation candidate at home, they won’t be able to compete for anything this season.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde (Balde 70’), Iñigo, Cancelo; Fermín (Raphinha 63’), Gündogan, Pedri (Romeu 81’); Yamal, Lewandowski, Félix (Ferran 70’)
Goals: Lewandowski (53’, pen. 77’)
Alavés: Sivera; Gorosabel (Tenaglia 85’), Abqar, Marín, Duarte, López; Guridi (Hagi 79’), Blanco (Mendes 85’), Guevara, Rioja (Rebbach 63’); Samu (Kike G. 79’)
Goal: Samu (1’)