Xavi hits half-century in charge
Barcelona coach Xavi celebrated 50 La Liga games in charge of the Catalans on Sunday, although he was forced to watch from a box in the stands due to suspension.
The manager won’t have liked all that he saw but he will be delighted to see his team win again, even though it was another ugly victory at the Camp Nou.
FC Barcelona move 10 points clear at the top of the table... ️#BarçaValencia highlights #LaLigaTV | #LaLigaHighlights pic.twitter.com/olDcDVj6Ev— LaLigaTV (@LaLigaTV) March 5, 2023
Xavi has now taken 118 points from his first 50 league games in charge. It’s a better record than Pep Guardiola managed (117) but not quite as good as Luis Enrique (124).
The boss wasn’t really thinking about any of that after the match when asked about his half-century and instead focused on his team’s performance.
“It’s not me, it’s the team,” he said. “It’s the players, the most important, the ones who play. We are growing, the team is competing, we have a winning character.”
Barcelona are certainly finding ways to grind out points. Xavi’s side have managed seven 1-0 wins in 2023 alone and, while they aren’t pretty, they are propelling the team towards the title.
Raphinha uses his head
Barcelona’s winner came from the head of Raphinha and was a move we’ve already seen this season. You get the feeling we might see it again too given it’s effectiveness.
Sergio Busquets was the creator this time, swinging in a gorgeous ball for Raphinha to rise and head past goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili.
3 - Raphinha has scored 3 headed goals in 23 games in LaLiga, having scored none in his 93 games between Premier League and Ligue 1. Furthermore, no player has scored more headed goals in LaLiga 2022/23 than the Brazilian (3, level with 4 players). Impact. pic.twitter.com/dsLVRJtqan— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 5, 2023
The Brazilian continues to be something of a mixed bag at Barcelona but he now has three goals and three assists in his last 10 games in all competitions. There’s no doubt that he’s been the team’s most effective forward when Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembele have been missing.
Ansu Fati hasn’t scored in La Liga for Barcelona since all the way back in October against Villarreal, while it’s also been more than four months since Ferran Torres last found the back of the net in the Spanish top flight.
Araujo takes one for the team
One of the low points from Sunday’s win was the sight of Ronald Araujo given his marching orders for a last-man foul on Hugo Duro.
The Uruguayan has been superb this season but had little choice but to try and haul Duro down after a poor header from Jules Kounde had played Barca into trouble.
1 - Ronald Araujo has received one red card in LaLiga 22/23, the same number of times he has been dribbled by an opponent in the competition this season (one in 13 games). Risk. pic.twitter.com/4pBTyh4Spw— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 5, 2023
You suspect Kounde’s mistake would have left Xavi fuming as he watched from high up in the stands. The coach had warned his team “no more mistakes” in his presser before the game and saw his side miss a penalty, lose a player and forced to battle to victory.
Xavi must also now cope without Araujo for next weekend’s trip to Athletic Club. However, the good news is he will be available to face Vini Junior and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in El Clasico.
Penalty mess at the Camp Nou
Barcelona could, and really should, have seen the game off more easily than they did. A second-half penalty handed the Catalans a glorious chance to make it 2-0 but it was wasted.
Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati and Franck Kessie were all seen discussing who should take the kick before Ferran walked off with the ball and scuffed a poor shot onto the post.
It was an awful effort and left most of us wondering if Ansu or Kessie should have taken it instead. Ansu is in dire need of a goal to restore some confidence, while Kessie had a good record as a penalty-taker with Milan in Italy.
And, it’s worth noting too that when it comes to shooting the Spain international really is struggling at the moment.
2 - Ferran Torres has scored just two goals from his last 57 shots in LaLiga and none from his last 15 attempts, including the missed penalty against Valencia. Decided. pic.twitter.com/ooLZ0DRBPE— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 5, 2023
Barcelona then escaped a late penalty shout when Franck Kessie challenged Fran Perez. The Ivorian did seem to get a bit of the Valencia winger but the referee wasn’t interested and VAR didn’t feel like getting involved either.
You’ve certainly seen them given this season (to be fair we’ve seen all sorts of monstrous decisions this season) but play was waved on and Barca took the three points despite all the penalty mess.
Barcelona becoming 1-0 masters
Barcelona’s victory was the team’s eighth 1-0 win of the season in La Liga as the Catalans churned out yet another clean sheet and struggled to kill the game off.
It’s been a similar story all season and shows yet again that it’s the defense that is really guiding Barcelona to the league title.
8 - Barcelona have won eight games by 1-0 in LaLiga 2022/23 (24 games), their most in a full season in the competition’s history. Profitability. pic.twitter.com/4052at1kC4— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 5, 2023
Xavi once again bemoaned his side’s inability to finish off Valencia although with Pedri, Dembele, Gavi and Robert Lewandowski all missing it’s no surprise goals were hard to come by.
“We suffered too much. We had many chances to score the second, but it happened to us many times and it’s something we have to correct,” he said. “It can’t be that we have to finish games like that when we have chances. We have to learn how to close out games.”
They certainly do. But Xav’is side are also winning games they would have dropped points in previously. Barca may be making their manager suffer at times this season but the nine-point lead after 24 games will make up for some of that.