Xavi rotates but Barcelona struggle
Xavi was as good as his word against Mallorca, opting to rest Jules Kounde and Robert Lewandowski as he rotated his squad and made five changes.
The Barcelona boss has been reluctant to take Lewandowski out of his team since signing him from Bayern Munich but admitted before the game it was time for a change.
“Lewandowski is on the bench because he has a lot of minutes,” he said. “I think it’s good that some people are resting, we have a good squad.”
Barca may have a good squad but they didn’t look the same without key players such as Lewandowski, Kounde and the injured Frenkie de Jong.
Indeed Xavi ended up calling for Lewandowski just 10 minutes into the second half with his team trailing and in need of goals.
Yet even Lewandowski couldn’t salvage a point for Barcelona. Indeed it was left to Raphinha and Fermin Lopez (with a little help from Lamine Yamal) to save Barca from defeat.
Defensive worries return for Barca
There’s no doubt that defensive errors cost Barcelona against Mallorca, with Xavi bemoaning his side’s “glaring” mistakes after the match.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was back to his best last season so it was a big surprise to see him gift Mallorca the opener.
A poor pass intended for Oriol Romeu handed the hosts possession in the eighth minute, and Mallorca made the most of it to open the scoring.
Ter Stegen turns it over in the back and Mallorca take advantage pic.twitter.com/YimdlL4ing— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 26, 2023
The Germany international wasn’t great for the second either. Ter Stegen was too slow to come off his line and was easily beaten in the end.
Barcelona’s goalkeeper wasn’t really helped by Ronald Araujo or Inigo Martinez, who both looked rusty due to a lack of game time, as Barcelona’s defensive vulnerabilites returned.
The visitors also missed De Jong, and dropped points without the Dutchman again, while Romeu looked sluggish defensively and is yet to complete 90 minutes this season.
“Last year we were incredibly solid at the back, but right now this department is costing us points. This is the reality. It’s our weakest point. It’s as clear as that,” said Xavi afterwards as he highlighted his concerns.
The Barcelona boss is right to worry too. Last season’s title win was based on rock solid foundations, but this time around they’ve conceded eight goals in seven La Liga games - the same as in their first 23 games of the last league campaign.
Raphinha’s numbers continue to add up
In attack, Raphinha had another productive night for Barcelona on a night where Ferran Torres was also handed a start but couldn’t continue his recent hot form.
Instead it was the former Leeds United man who scored and assisted. That’s the sixth time this year he’s managed the feat - more than anyone else in Europe’s top five leagues.
6 - Players from Europe's top five leagues to have both scored and assisted the most times in a single game in 2023 across all competitions:— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 26, 2023
6 - RAPHINHA DIAS
5 - Vinícius Júnior
5 - Loïs Openda
Raphinha’s goal was a stunner that really lifted Barca. He latched onto a loose ball and powered a low effort around the goalkeeper and into the far corner. He’s also now into double figures for the year and is top of the pile in La Liga for goals scored from outside the box.
4 - Raphinha Dias is the second Barcelona player to reach double figures for goals in 2023 in all competitions (10), after Robert Lewandowski (21). Besides, The Brazilian has scored the most goals from outside the box of any LaLiga player since the start of the year (4). Vital. pic.twitter.com/hZOtYfylMz— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 26, 2023
Yet it could have been so much better for Raphinha. The Brazilian had another clear chance to score after his first goal. He was sent through on goal but fired a wild effort miles off target.
Lamine Yamal makes an impact
Raphinha is being pushed all the way for a starting spot by Lamine Yamal who made an impact again after coming off the bench for Barcelona. Indeed he thought he’d won a penalty almost immediately only to see it chalked off by VAR.
The 16-year-old may not have won the penalty but he will surely have won plenty more admirers in his brief cameo. Xavi was urging him to look for the one on one and you could see why, with the teenager just a joy to watch when it comes to taking on players.
He also played a key role in the equaliser. A cute ball in to Raphinha eventually ended up in the back of the net via Fermin Lopez as Barca grabbed a point.
Xavi pledged to take it “step by step” with Lamine after the game, as he’s still just 16, but this was another example of why we’re all so keen to see the youngster playing first-team football.
Redemption for Fermin Lopez
Fermin Lopez hasn’t had the best time at Barcelona recently but was able to put all that behind him with a great goal against Mallorca, his first competitive strike for the senior side.
The youngster asked to play for Barca Atletic during the last international break, only to get himself sent off and hit with a one-match ban.
"Happy for my first goal ... on Friday, we're going for the three points."— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 27, 2023
— Fermín López pic.twitter.com/tj5JuX5HC4
Yet Xavi kept faith with the midfielder and threw him into the fray in the second half. Fermin made sure the faith was well and truly repaid by making it 2-2.
It was a lovely goal from Barcelona too. Lamine Yamal started things off, Raphinha assisted with a cut back, and Lewandowski then pulled out a dummy to allow Lopez to slot home.
The youngster is having to be patient at Barcelona this season but he’s bound to get more opportunities if he can grasp them like he did against Mallorca.