Costly defeat for Barcelona
Barcelona’s defence of their Copa del Rey trophy came to an end at San Mames on a costly night for the Catalans who saw both Pedri and Ansu Fati pick up injuries, while Xavi said Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba both finished the game in a bit of discomfort.
Athletic produced a typical Athletic performance that almost seemed to take Barca by surprise. Xavi admitted after the game that the hosts’ intensity had won the game, and he certainly wasn’t wrong, but the players surely must have been expecting nothing less from the Basques.
There may be complaints about the penalty from which Iker Munian won the match in extra-time, but the truth is that Athletic were the better, more committed, hungrier and determined side who deserved to go through.
The Basques had 9 shots (with 7 on target), compared to Barca’s 7 (with 3 on target), and used their pace in attack to cause all sorts of problems for the visitors’ ageing backline of Dani Alves (38), Gerard Pique (34), Jordi Alba (32) and even Sergio Busquets (33).
Barca’s defeat at San Mames also means the team have won just four of 15 games away from home this season, a troubling statistic for Xavi and his team. The Catalans now have only La Liga and the Europa League to focus on for the rest of the season and are facing up to another trophyless campaign.
More heartbreak for Ansu Fati
Ansu Fati simply can’t catch a break and suffered more heartache when he was forced off in extra-time through injury. The teenager looked to be in tears as he walked off, accepted a hug from Xavi and then went straight down the tunnel.
The early signs aren’t good either. Barca have confirmed Fati has suffered a hamstring injury and needs more tests, with early reports suggesting he could be out for as long as two months.
LATEST NEWS | @ANSUFATI has a left biceps femoris injury. Further tests pending to find out the exact extent of the injury. pic.twitter.com/FORvAZ9lnC— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 20, 2022
Fati has already shown great character to fight back from a series of knee operations and then, more recently, a hamstring injury that forced him back on to the sidelines for another two months.
The brilliant teenager has still managed to show us how special he is this season despite all his physical problems. He has five goals in 10 games in all competitions despite his lack of match play over the last few seasons.
Yet sadly the striker will have to call on all his courage once again to deal with yet another setback. Let’s just hope it’s not too long before we get to see Ansu Fati doing what we does best again in a Barcelona shirt.
Ferran Torres opens his account in style
There wasn’t too much good news from Barca’s defeat but the sight of new signing Ferran Torres opening his account in some style was certainly a real highlight.
Torres was making just his second Barca outing, and only his second since October due to injuries and Covid, but curled a beautiful effort past a helpless Julen Agirrezabala to pull Barca level at 1-1.
It wasn’t just the finish though, the goal came after a decent bit of build-up play from the visitors too.
22 - @FCBarcelona made 22 passes before Ferran Torres goal today against Athletic, their longest pass sequence ending in goal this season in all competitions (17 against Mallorca in LaLiga, Luuk de Jong). Style. pic.twitter.com/Hpp3OLqyPv— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 20, 2022
Torres’s strike should help the Spain international settle and, with Fati potentially out for a while and uncertainty over Ousmane Dembele’s future, the new signing is really going to be needed over the coming weeks and months.
Jordi Alba has a nightmare
One of the features of Thursday’s match was the sight of 19-year-old Nico Williams absolutely terrorizing Jordi Alba down Barca’s left side.
Nico flew past Alba for the opening goal in a remarkable turn of pace and was simply too hot for the 32-year-old to handle throughout the game.
For Alba it was a game to forget. The defender won’t want to see Athletic’s second goal again either and also conceded the vital penalty that secured the hosts’ win.
The stats highlight his troubles too. Alba lost the most balls (33), missed 23 passes, although he did make the most recoveries (13).
There have been whispers of a move for a left-back this winter with Jose Gaya, Alex Telles and Nicolas Tagliafico all mentioned. We all know January transfers will be difficult, but the full-back positions remain an issue for Barcelona and need to be addressed in the summer.
Can Pedri keep on scoring?
The only other positive from a Barcelona point of view was the performance of Pedri who shone in midfield until he was forced off and opened his account for the season to make it 2-2.
The build-up to the game had seen plenty of talk about how Pedri had been tasked with scoring more goals for Barcelona and challenged by Xavi and his staff to beat last season’s tally of four.
| Pedri vs Athletic.— Barça Buzz (@Barca_Buzz) January 21, 2022
• 1 Goal
• 77 Touches
• 53/57 Passes
• 93% Passing Accuracy (Highest)
• 6/7 Long Balls
• 3 Chances Created
• 3 Key Passes
• 2 Crosses
• 5/8 Duels Won
• 1 Dribble
• 1 Clearance
• 1 Tackle
• 2 Interceptions
• 7 Ball Recoveries
• 3 Fouls Won pic.twitter.com/1Q0Opdkfa8
Pedri duly obliged with a late strike to force the game into extra-time (what is it with Pedri and extra-time) after a wild, yet effective, overhead kick assist from inside the penalty area by Dani Alves.
Goals have been a problem for Barcelona all season and goals from midfield in particular have been few and far between. If Pedri really can add some more goals to his game then that would be a real boost for Barca.