A game of two halves for Barca
Barca ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against Elche courtesy of a much-improved showing after the half-time break.
Ronald Koeman had made five changes to his team for the match but saw his team produce a pedestrian first-half performance lacking in ideas and energy.
The Barca boss made changes at half-time, bringing on Ousmane Dembele for Miralem Pjanic and tweaking his formation, which helped his team spark into life and run away with the three points.
It was not the most convincing of performance by Barca but it does put them back into third and should inject some belief and confidence after some tough results against Cadiz and PSG.
Koeman loses patience with Pjanic
Although it was a good night for Barcelona, Wednesday’s match is unlikely to be one that Pjanic remembers too fondly. It was a curious move to bring in Pjanic for Arthur over the summer, and the 30-year-old continues to struggle to adapt at the Camp Nou.
Koeman handed Pjanic just his sixth La Liga start of the season against Elche but could only watch as the midfielder looked rather lost alongside Frenkie de Jong and Pedri who both played key roles again.
It was no surprise to see Pjanic hooked at the break and Barca improve as soon as Dembele arrived and Koeman tweaked the system. Koeman also had words of warning for Pjanic after the match telling the midfielder, “he has to improve his rhythm on the ball and know his position.”
Pjanic has complained on a couple of occasions about his lack of playing time at Barcelona, but this was not a performance that will convince anyone he deserves more minutes at the Camp Nou.
Messi takes lead in Pichichi race
Wednesday’s game brought two more goals for Lionel Messi and saw the captain move above Luis Suarez in the race for the Pichichi. The Barca captain is now on 18 for the season, two ahead of his close friend.
Messi is also outscoring the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland at the moment. Indeed no-one has scored more than the Argentine since the turn of the year.
Messi: 13— Goal (@goal) February 24, 2021
Lionel Messi has scored more goals in all competitions than any other player in Europe's top five leagues in 2021 pic.twitter.com/55DT2hR9Nh
The 33-year-old has now scored six in his last four for Barcelona, has found the back of the net in each of the team’s last 10 La Liga matches and even took time out to hand over his shirt to a startled Edgar Badia after the match.
There’s no doubt that Messi is in great goalscoring form currently, and Barca will need him at his best ahead of two crunch games against Sevilla and with the return against PSG looming in the Champions League.
Barca finally keep a clean sheet
Koeman fielded his 20th different defensive line-up of the season on Wednesday with Samuel Umtiti partnering Gerard Pique in central defense and Oscar Mingueza and Jordi Alba as the full-backs.
The new-look backline saw Barca pick up their first clean sheet in eight games, a run that stretches all the way back to January 24 when they beat, yep you’ve guessed it, Elche 2-0 away.
A clean sheet will be welcomed by Barca, although Elche should have scored early on when Lucas Boye was handed a great chance to punish the hosts but blazed over with just Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat.
Koeman threw on Clement Lenglet and Sergino Dest late on to give Pique and Alba some rest and now has some big decisions to make in defense ahead of the double-header against Sevilla.
Barca cling onto title hopes
Barca blew a big chance to cut the gap to Atletico to six points on Sunday against Cadiz but victory over Elche does mean Koeman’s men move up to third and are now just five points behind the league leaders.
Diego Simeone’s men do have a game in hand but do also seem to be wobbling. The Rojiblancos have dropped points home and away against Levante in recent weeks and were beaten 1-0 by Chelsea in midweek in the Champions League.
A tougher challenge awaits Barca at Sevilla on Saturday, while Atletico face Villarreal, Real Madrid and Athletic in their next three La Liga matches. Jordi Alba summed it up nicely after the game saying “some weeks we’re out of it and some weeks we’re in it, it seems.”
This week, so far at least, Barcelona are still in it.