Barca ease the pressure
Barcelona headed into Thursday’s match under a cloud after poor results against Inter and Real Madrid that had left Xavi openly admitting before the match he was well aware he could be replaced as manager if results did not improve.
The coach subsequently made five changes to his team and was rewarded with a good performance, an excellent result and a return to winning ways. The victory will also ease the pressure Xavi was starting to come under.
Villarreal arrived at the Camp Nou having only conceded three goals in La Liga but then went on to ship another three in just 38 minutes as Barcelona ran away with it in a seven-minute spell before half-time.
There was also a clean sheet to boot for the Catalans on a night where everything seemed to go right for Xavi’s side. It’s an important win for morale and sets up Barca nicely for another tough test on Sunday against Athletic.
Lewandowski goes past the 600 mark
Striker Robert Lewandowski was once again crucial to the victory. His two goals in four minutes put the hosts in charge. The first came when he spun and shot in the penalty area and the second was a glorious curler from the edge of the box.
That’s now 16 in all competitions for Barca from the Poland international and 11 in 10 La Liga games. The strikes were also Lewandowski’s 600th and 601st in his career, becoming just the third player to go past that mark since 2000 (no prizes for guessing the other two).
Robert Lewandowski scored his 600th and 601st competitive goal for club & country today.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 20, 2022
What a milestone pic.twitter.com/Fux7cg8k8D
Xavi called him “insatiable” after the game and his desire seems undimmed even at the age of 34. Lewandowski’s goals also saw the striker gain some revenge on Villarreal after the Yellow Submarine knocked his Bayern side out of the Champions League last season.
Flawless Frenkie is the future
Lewandowski will likely steal the headlines once again but Frenkie de Jong deserves huge credit for his performance. The Dutchman replaced Sergio Busquets in the starting XI and may just stay there after he put in a superb showing behind Pedri and Gavi.
Frenkie de Jong vs Villarreal:— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 20, 2022
2 successful dribbles**
4 tackles won**
94.9% passing precision
** game high
* team high pic.twitter.com/abmqQl1W5o
The Dutchman won all 10 of his duels, intercepted the ball, drove forwards and heard the Camp Nou give him a huge reception when he was eventually taken off. It’s been a tough few months for Frenkie but the supporters made their feelings crystal clear.
“Frenkie was very good,” said Xavi after the match. “He really enjoyed the game, he understood it very well and he played a very complete game. I’m happy for him.”
The big question now is whether De Jong will stay in the starting XI or head back to the bench in place of Busquets. We won’t have to wait long to find out with Barca back in action on Sunday.
Are Ansu and Ferran the best option?
Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres also impressed after coming into the starting XI in place of Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha.
The two forwards have had to be patient this season but both staked a claim for more starts with effective showings against Villarreal.
Ferran created Barcelona’s third with a wonderful run where he took out two defenders and then found Ansu. The teenager’s finish wasn’t the neatest but he got the ball over the line to kill off Villarreal.
Ansu now has three La Liga goals in just over 330 minutes of La Liga football this season. Dembele and Raphinha have the same number combined in over 1000 minutes of playing time.
There have been many doubts over Ansu this season but the youngster does appear to be coming good. Ferran may also be changing minds. The forward’s been heavily criticized by fans but showed against Villarreal he does offer something different on the right flank.
Pique divides opinion at the Camp Nou
Fans also had their say on Gerard Pique during the match after the defender come on as a late substitute for Jules Kounde. Xavi opted for Marco Alonso alongside Kounde against Villarreal, ensuring Pique was on the bench again.
The veteran did get some minutes late on but was whistled initially by some of the 73, 261 supporters inside the Camp Nou. Those jeers were drowned out by other fans who weren’t at all impressed with the way Pique was being treated.
Xavi backed the center-back heavily after the match and admitted he had no idea why Pique was whistled by the crowd.
“I don’t know and it doesn’t interest me much,” he said. “He is an example for the whole dressing room and training really well, that’s positive.
“The atmosphere is fantastic inside the dressing room. We have a great group, one of the best I have seen in my career.”
Pique’s horrible mistake against Inter last week may still be fresh in fans’ minds but that’s still no reason to whistle a true legend of the club. Thursday’s outing was just his fourth La Liga appearance of the season and there may not be too many more this campaign once Barca’s defensive injuries clear up.