Barcelona will finish the year in third place in the La Liga table and have ended a three-game winless streak in all competitions thanks to a 3-2 win over bottom of the table Almería in their final competitive match of 2023, but the Blaugrana still showed there’s a lot to work on as they struggled mightily to beat the worst team in the league and could have easily dropped points again thanks to poor finishing up front and awful mistakes at the back.
The pressure on Xavi Hernández will remain strong after this one, and a lot of players continue to play well below par as Barça ended the first half of the season in concerning fashion — despite the three points.
Almería knew they were the worst team in the league and had very little chance of getting anything unless they sat back in a low block and tried their hardest to frustrate Barça. And the plan worked: the Blaugrana had all of the ball but struggled — as they always do — to attack a back five in a low block, and Sergi Roberto missed a wide-open header before the 10th minute that turned out to be the home team’s best chance of the first half-hour of play.
Barça finally found a breakthrough after a corner from Ilkay Gündogan that found the head of Ronald Araujo, who had his header saved by Luís Maximiano but the rebound fell perfectly to Raphinha who smashed home the opener. The Blaugrana had a golden chance to double the lead shortly after when Edgar González gave the ball away inside his own box, but Robert Lewandowski failed to capitalize and had his shot saved by Maximiano.
And with five minutes to go before halftime, a shocking equalizer for Almería after Barça gave the ball away inside their own half and Léo Bapitstão was played through on goal and chipped Iñaki Peña to make it 1-1. The goal was initially disallowed for offside, but it was then cleared by VAR and the visitors were somehow back in the game.
The halftime whistle came to end yet another brutally frustrating half for Barça, who should have been up at least two goals but were instead dropping two more points with 45 minutes to go.
Xavi Hernández made a double halftime substitution as Jules Kounde and Ferran Torres came on and the Blaugrana started the final period with more urgency and pace to their passing and movement.
Ferran almost scored a great solo goal and Lewandowski missed another relatively easy chance, but it didn’t take long for Barça’s pressure to yield a positive result: Raphinha sent a corner into the box and Sergi Roberto headed a beauty into the net to put the home team back in front at the hour mark, and the Blaugrana looked ready to finally put the game away.
Instad of putting the game away, Barça conceded a second equalizer in truly unbelievable fashion: Sergio Arribas sent a long free-kick into the box, Ronald Araujo collided with Iñaki Peña when the goalkeeper had the ball in his hands, and Edgar took advantage of the miscommunication to pass the ball into an open net with 20 minutes to go.
It looked as though we were destined for yet another embarrassing result, but with 10 minutes to go came the game-winner: Lewandowski played a gorgeous ball over the top of the defense to find the run of Sergi Roberto, and the captain scored his second of the night to put Barça in front for a third time.
The Catalans could and should have put the game beyond doubt at the death, but Lewandowski missed yet another big chance and Roberto wasted two opportunities to bag a hat-trick, but the final whistle came to confirm the victory and give the home team three important points.
For Barça to barely beat one of the worst teams in La Liga history at home says a lot about where they are right now, and it almost makes you feel worse about the state of things than a loss would, because there would be no papering over the cracks.
But the many real issues with this team continue to be obvious and glaring, and nothing seems to have been done to solve them. Is Xavi the man for the job? Are these players good enough? It’s becoming harder and harder to say yes to both questions, and that’s a very depressing way to finish 2023 as a Barça fan.
Barcelona: Peña; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen (Kounde 46’), Balde; Fermín (Romeu 68’), Gündogan, Roberto; Raphinha (Yamal 76’), Lewandowski, Félix (Ferran 46’)
Goals: Raphinha (33’), Roberto (60’, 83’)
Almería: Maximiano; Pozo (Mendes 64’), Brandariz, Montes, Edgar, Akieme; Arribas, Baba, Lopy, Ramazani (Embarba 77’); Baptistão (Lázaro 77’)
Goals: Baptistão (41’), Edgar (71’)