Barcelona have reached the 50-point mark and are up to third place in the La Liga table thanks to a hard-fought 3-1 win away to Deportivo Alavés at the Mendizorrotza on Saturday evening. A very competitive match saw Barça play well for an hour, be brutally efficient with their chances and protect their lead despite going down to 10 men after yet another officiating disaster that made them suffer a lot more than they needed to at the end, but the Catalans got the job done and escaped the Basque Country with three massive points and a second straight victory in the league.
The opening 45 minutes were pretty even as both teams had a good plan and mostly denied each other, with Barça naturally having more of the ball but struggling to find consistent passing sequences and spaces in the attacking half against Alavés’ man-marking scheme.
The home team pressed high and didn’t allow Barça any joy on the ball as soon as they crossed the midfield line, and they knew exactly what to do in possession as well: Alavés used quick passes through the lines to find spaces on the wings and send several crosses into the box, and there were quite a few scares through the air for the Barça defense.
Midway through the period came the first goal after an excellent passing sequence down the left wing by the Catalans finally created some space in the final third for Ilkay Gündogan to move into, receive the ball and play a gorgeous pass through to Robert Lewandowski, who showed great composure to chip the keeper and put the visitors in front to finish off a great team move.
Alavés responded well to going behind and wrestled back some of the possession, and they should have had an equalizer towards the end of the half when a cross by Luis Rioja found Jon Guridi all alone inside the six-yard box, but the midfielder’s header went straight at Iñaki Peña who made an important stop for the Blaugrana.
The halftime whistle came to end a competitive first period, and while Barça had the lead the game was clearly far from over and Alavés looked ready to launch an early blitz to get back in the game in the second half.
The first five minutes of the final period were wild: Barça doubled their lead after a long ball from the back started a counter-attack that ended with an outrageous assist by Pedri and a gorgeous volley by Gündogan. Before Barça were done celebrating, however, Alex Sola went on a fantastic solo run down the right wing and his cross found Samu Omorodion all alone in the box for an easy header to bring Alavés right back in the game.
All of that happened before we reached the 50th minute, and the match remained wide open with the momentum on Alavés’ side. The home team looked confident and continued to attack in the following 10 minutes, but Barça did a solid job not allowing a real chance and slowly but surely regained a bit of control.
And with half an hour to play, the Catalans restored their two-goal advantage: Lamine Yamal went on his own brilliant solo run down the right wing and found Frenkie de Jong, who quickly moved the ball over to Héctor Fort and the young full-back found Vitor Roque, who needed just three minutes on the pitch to score as a substitute for the second game in a row with a great instinctive first-time finish.
Then young Roque was the victim of two horrific refereeing decisions that changed the course of the game: in a span of just five minutes the Brazilian was shown two extremely soft yellow cards, the second for barely touching an Alavés defender on a play that should have result in a foul for Barça 30 seconds earlier, and the Blaugrana were suddenly down to 10 men with 15 minutes to go.
Alavés, who had looked out of answers and almost accepting the defeat at that point, were suddenly given a boost by the referees and went back on the attack after making a couple of bold substitutions and playing with nothing to lose and an extra man on the pitch.
10-man Barça had no choice but to drop back and park the bus to protect their lead while looking for one more golden chance to kill the game off on the counter. Xavi Hernández made a couple of defensive substitutions to shore things up at the back, and the final minutes were played almost entirely in the Blaugrana’s half as Alavés chased a late miracle.
The visitors did an admirable job of defending their advantage in the dying seconds, and Alavés never found a second goal to ignite their comeback bid. The final whistle came to end a game that was as tough as advertised, but that ended with a deserved victory by a Barça side that knew when to play good football and when to fight.
The referees continue to try their hardest to make Barça’s life as miserable as possible this season, but the good guys still found a way to win this one. Vitor Roque had yet another huge impact despite his undeserved red card, and Xavi’s men showed remarkable resilience despite facing adversity from a good Alavés side as well as those who are supposed to be neutral parties on the pitch. It’s us against the world indeed. Well done, boys!
Alavés: Sivera; Tenaglia (Hagi 77’), Marín, Duarte, López; Blanco (Benavidez 77’), Guevara; Sola, Guridi (Rebbach 64’), Rioja (Simeone 64’); Samu (Panichelli 87’)
Goal: Samu (51’)
Barcelona: Peña; Kounde, Araujo, Cubarsí (Iñigo 83’), Cancelo (Fort 46’); Christensen (Romeu 83’), De Jong; Yamal, Gündogan (Roque 59’), Pedri (Fermín 75’); Lewandowski
Goals: Lewandowski (22’), Gündogan (49’), Roque (63’)
Red Card: Roque (72’)