Barca dig really deep for first win of 2022
Barcelona kicked off 2022 with an important 1-0 win over Real Mallorca in La Liga that bodes well for the new year for all sorts of reasons.
Xavi was without eight first-teamers due to Covid-19, had captain Sergio Busquets suspended and key players such as Ansu Fati, Pedri and Memphis on the injured list.
All of which meant for an unlikely looking starting XI which included Barca B players Ferran Jutgla and Ilias Akhomach and a very rare place for the much-maligned Luuk de Jong.
We also saw Gerard Pique on free-kick duties in the first half, first-team debuts for two more youngsters in Álvaro Sanz and Estanis Pedrola and a lot of fouls as Barca ground it out.
24 - @FCBarcelona have conceded 24 fouls in this games versus Mallorca, their highest tally in a single #LaLiga game since November 2008 vs Málaga at La Rosaleda (24 too) with Pep Guardiola in the bench. Practical#FCB #MallorcaBarça pic.twitter.com/Mz30FG4DZs— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 2, 2022
Eric Garcia admitted after the match Barca had “suffered,” while Xavi said the win “meant a lot” as his young players put in a performance full of belief and character that takes Barca up the table into fifth.
Xavi’s already admitted he feels Barca have a “psychological issue” but this is the sort of performance, against a Real Mallorca team that had only lost once at home beforehand don’t forget, that suggests the mentality may finally be starting to shift.
Luuk de Jong is Barca’s unlikely hero
The visitors’ unlikely hero was none other than Luuk de Jong, who has spent most of his time at the club being derided for not being your typical Barcelona player.
Sunday’s game didn’t start too well for the Dutchman either. An effort at goal that went out for a throw-in was a little worrying, and he then put an effort on the post from close range.
The woodwork then denied De Jong an early contender for goal of the season with a brilliant acrobatic effort and it looked like being one of those days for the Dutchman.
❤️ @LuukdeJong9's best performance in an @FCBarcelona shirt?#RCDMallorcaBarça pic.twitter.com/KIXVuc8Dkn— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) January 2, 2022
However, he kept on going and got his reward with the winner just before half-time. Oscar Mingueza was the man to float in a cross and De Jong did the rest at the far post for the only goal of the game.
De Jong may still not be the man Barcelona really need in attack, and he probably knows that as well as anyone, but he came up with the goods when it mattered against Real Mallorca and deserves credit for that.
Ter Stegen saves the day
Of course De Jong wasn’t the only player who has been heavily criticized recently to make a crucial contribution to Barcelona’s win over Real Mallorca.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was also called into action in stoppage time to make a stunning reflex save from Jaume Costa to preserve Barca’s win.
It was a moment of brilliance from the German stopper that drew wild celebrations from Gerard Pique afterwards who knew just how important a save it was.
Photo of the year so far, @FCBarcelona fans?#RCDMallorcaBarça pic.twitter.com/pyrs2Cathq— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) January 2, 2022
Eric Garcia reckoned Barcelona owed “70 percent of the win to Ter Stegen” after the match and there was also plenty of praise from manager Xavi too.
There’s no doubt it was a big moment for the goalkeeper and one he really needed. Xavi has hinted Ter Stegen’s dip in form may be due to a lack of confidence but this should be a big shot in the arm.
Pique rising to Xavi’s challenge?
Gerard Pique was another player who shone against Real Mallorca and seems to be rising to the challenge presented by Xavi’s arrival. The defender said after the coach was appointed he doesn’t want to let Xavi down and added, “Morally I have to give him my best and if my performance is not the best I feel like I’m failing him.”
| Gerard Piqué vs Mallorca.— Barça Buzz (@Barca_Buzz) January 2, 2022
• 99 Touches.
• 69 Passes. (Most)
• 10 Long Balls.
• 2 Shots.
• 11/13 Duels Won. (Most)
• 5 Clearances.
• 3 Headed Clearances.
• 4 Blocks.
• 7/9 Aerials Won.
• 2 Interceptions.
• 4 Ball Recoveries.
• 3 Fouls Won.
• 0 Fouls Conceded. pic.twitter.com/rvKBNMnCcd
The stats seem to show that Pique has upped his game recently or perhaps he is just feeling far more comfortable with Xavi’s style of play. Pique’s only lost the ball once in four La Liga games under Xavi and is now averaging 10.1 ball recoveries per game (up from 7.9), according to Catalunya Radio.
The defender was certainly on song against Real Mallorca and showed his leadership when it was needed with such a young team around him. He seemed to win simply everything in the air in what was a dominant display at Son Moix.
Top four back in sight
Sunday’s win brings the top four back into view for Barcelona who move into fifth place in the table, now just a point behind Atletico in fourth and two behind third-placed Betis.
It was a good weekend for the Catalan giants with Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad, and Real Betis all dropping points. Real Madrid also suffered a surprise defeat against Getafe too.
@FCBarcelona and @atletienglish are on the up in #LaLigaSantander! pic.twitter.com/3cOFGgz5yE— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) January 2, 2022
Of course it’s not where Barca want to be but it should provide the team with plenty of motivation given all the problems the Catalans have had to endure in the first half of the season.
You would expect the second part of the season should be far more rewarding for Barcelona too, with Xavi’s methods starting to bear fruit and key players such as Ansu Fati and Pedri set to return from injury.
Barca will also have Dani Alves, Ferran Torres and possibly Alvaro Morata, if reports are to be believed, to add into the mix which should make for a fascinating next few months at the Camp Nou.