Top four back in sight
Barcelona may have struggled to beat relegated-threatened Alaves at Mendizorrotza in what was a pretty poor performance but they did somehow manage to take home all three points.
It’s an important win too, not least because it puts Barca into fifth place in the table and just a point behind Atletico Madrid. The two teams face off next time out in La Liga, after the international break, and Barca will go into the top four with a win.
Of course that’s a big if on the evidence of Sunday’s showing where Barca enjoyed bags of possession (693 passes to be exact) but appeared to have very little idea of exactly what to do with the ball.
Xavi now has time to work with his team over the international break, well those not called up by their national teams at least, ahead of what is crucial month coming up for the Catalan giants.
After a run of seven games away from home Barca host Atletico next and then take on Espanyol, Valencia, and Athletic in La Liga. There’s also two Europa League games against Napoli in February in what may well be a decisive month for the Catalans.
Dest misses chance to impress
Xavi’s starting XI contained one notable surprise with Sergino Dest given a rare chance to impress at right-back. There’s been plenty of talk about Dest’s future at Barca since Xavi’s arrival but he was back in from the start for the first time since early December.
This was the perfect chance for Dest to show Xavi what he could do but the USMNT star simply didn’t take advantage. He was hesitant to go forwards which seemed to frustrate Xavi on the touchline.
The youngster also got an earful from Gerard Pique after conceding a needless foul just outside the penalty area. Given Barca’s vulnerability at set-pieces you could understand the center-back’s frustration.
Dest will now head off on USMNT duty for World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador, Canada, and Honduras which does offer the defender the chance for some more game time before he heads back to Barcelona and, most likely, a place back on the bench.
Can Barca winner spark Frenkie?
Frenkie de Jong is another player who has had a lot written about him this season. The Dutchman has been far from his best but proved the match-winner at Alaves with a late goal after an assist from Ferran Torres.
It was a good moment for Frenkie and Barca will be hoping the goal can spark the midfielder back into life and some kind of form ahead of a big run of fixtures in February.
8 - @FCBarcelona have collected eight points thanks to seven Frenkie de Jong's goals in #LaLiga being the goal vs Alaves his latest goal in the competition (87').— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 24, 2022
⚽ at Real Betis (2 points)
⚽ vs Real Sociedad (2)
⚽ in Huesca (2)
⚽ in Vitoria (2)
Decisive#FCB ❤ pic.twitter.com/TUtqkvBTmX
The Dutchman spoke typically honestly after the match about how he can improve but added that his form “hasn’t been a disaster either.” Even more interestingly, he also spoke about his disappointment at how there had been pride at Barca’s performance in defeat to Real Madrid at the Super Cup.
Gerard Pique notably spoke out about his pride after the Madrid game, although he did also admit it always hurts to lose to Real Madrid. There’s no suggestion De Jong was taking a pop at Pique but you do get the feeling Frenkie’s not completely happy right now.
Pedri and 10 others
Pedri was back in the starting XI against Alaves, despite going off injured against Athletic, and played the whole 90 minutes. He was arguably the Catalans’ best player too with another impressive showing.
The 19-year-old midfielder was also seen urging his team on and issuing instructions like a veteran in the second half as Barca toiled against Alaves. He also came up with a host of chances for his team-mates.
Xavi mentioned the youngster’s leadership skills after the match as he praised Pedri for his contribution.
“He already does lead us. He’s 19 years old. He’s spectacular what he does. We make jokes about ‘what school did you come from?’ and ‘How do you know to do the things that you do?’ It’s natural,” he said. “A lot of players don’t have that. To play football you need that and he has it. It’s what we need and what we want more players to do. He’s a spectacular player, his character and his quality. He loves the game. It’s just a joy to have him.”
There were a report recently highlighting how Busquets has played virtually every minute under Xavi and the coach is clear his team should be “Busquets and 10 more.” However, the captain was careless again versus Alaves and you suspect really that Pedri should be the first name on Xavi’s teamsheet right now.
Xavi needs reinforcements
Barcelona’s win over Alaves also showed up the team’s need for reinforcements ahead of the final week of the transfer window. Xavi’s already made it clear he wants signings even though finances make any new arrivals very tricky.
A goalscorer is badly needed, as Sunday’s match showed. Alvaro Morata has been mentioned as Xavi’s first choice, which is something of a surprise, but Barca need a clinical finisher, particularly now Ansu Fati’s season may be over.
Luuk de Jong has done a decent job recently but is not the answer, the returning Martin Braithwaite is a decent back-up but nothing more, while Ferran Jutgla lacks top-level experience.
The other rumors have concerned the addition of a left-back to provide competition for Jordi Alba. Alejandro Balde doesn’t seem quite ready, which means the 32-year-old plays every time no matter what.