Frenkie takes charge
Frenkie de Jong has been growing in influence at Barcelona this season and well and truly stepped up to the plate to inspire his team to victory at Elche.
The visitors were once again without suspended captain Lionel Messi but saw their Netherlands international pick up a goal and an assist to secure all three points.
There was a bit of debate about the first goal with De Jong just getting a touch on the ball as it crossed the line, but no doubt at all about his determination to get forward.
That’s now four goals and four assists for the season for De Jong who has also now scored more goals for Barcelona than he did for former side Ajax.
5 - @DeJongFrenkie21 has scored more goals for @FCBarcelona in one season & a half in #LaLiga (five goals) than in his five campaign for @AFCAjax in Eredivisie (four). Brewing#ElcheBarcelona #ElcheBarça pic.twitter.com/OG4H5WFCUH— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 24, 2021
Ronald Koeman spoke before, and after, the match about the need for his team to share the goals around and De Jong is certainly doing his bit.
Riqui makes his presence felt
De Jong may have been the driving force for Barca but it was Riqui Puig who stole all the headlines with his first goal to seal the win late on.
It had looked like being another frustrating afternoon for the youngster who only arrived as a late substitute in the 87th minute but two minutes later he was celebrating wildly.
It was a great moment for Pugi who was mobbed by his team-mates, putting to bed rumors he’s unpopular in the dressing room, and even drew praise from Koeman after the match.
The fact that Puig, who has regularly been derided for not being big enough and was the smallest player on the pitch, opened his Barca account with a header only added to the fun.
Puig couldn’t stop smiling after the match and admitted it’s been a tough season so far, but this was a moment that he will never forget.
Defensive mistakes still on show
Yet it wasn’t all good news for Barcelona as defensive mistakes were on show yet again, the only difference this time around was that the visitors got away with it.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was guilty of a really careless pass that fortunately did not prove costly, while Oscar Mingueza’s blunder after a pass from Samuel Umtiti put Barca in trouble.
Emiliano Rigoni was allowed to run through on goal but could not beat Ter Stegen who made an important save to preserve Barca’s 1-0 lead.
The mistakes did not go unnoticed on the Barca bench. Koeman spoke afterwards about how lucky Barca are to have Ter Stegen, and he certainly won’t be happy that his team very nearly made life hard for themselves yet again in La Liga.
Can Umtiti stay fit?
Koeman did make changes to his defense for the match, bringing in Samuel Umtiti for just his second start of the season. It was the first time the Frenchman had started a game alongside Ronald Araujo.
Umtiti hardly had a lot to do against Elche but finished the game with another clean sheet. He’s now made five appearances for Barcelona in total this season and is yet to see his team concede a goal in those matches.
The Frenchman still looks Barca’s best ball-playing defender but his fitness remains in question, and no-one seems to know if he is capable of playing regularly due to his ongoing knee issues.
Umtiti’s performance comes at a time when Clement Lenglet is struggling for form, and it will be interesting to see if the World Cup winner can play a part this season and challenge his compatriot for a place in the starting XI.
Barca’s away form on the up
Barca’s game at Elche was the team’s seventh in a row on the road and yielded yet another win. Their only loss in that run came in the Super Cup final defeat to Athletic after extra-time, and Koeman’s men have now won four straight La Liga games on the road.
It’s a big positive for Barca who have struggled away from home in recent seasons and also came when they were without Lionel Messi due to suspension and after playing extra-time in their last three matches.
Yet another away game awaits on Wednesday, against Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey, before Barca finally head back to the Camp Nou for yet another match against Athletic.