Xavi goes with four midfielders
As promised, Xavi did make changes to his team and raised a few eyebrows by naming four midfielders in his starting line-up.
Sergio Busquets was back in the team along with Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Gavi. It was a surprise move from Xavi but one that worked well.
Ernesto Valverde admitted as much after the game. The former Barca man said he was “surprised by Barca’s system” and that it “caught us out a little.”
De Jong continued where he left off against Villarreal, Athletic didn’t seem quite sure what to do with Pedri on the left and only managed to stop Gavi by forcing him off injured.
Xavi explained after the match he went with the extra man in midfield because he knew Athletic would press high and he wanted to outnumber the visitors.
A few doubts over Xavi have emerged after the games against Inter and Barcelona but this was a great display by the Catalans and the coach deserves credit for his approach.
Unhappy return for Valverde
Ernesto Valverde has back at the Camp Nou for the first time since being sacked in January 2020 but it was not a happy return for the former boss.
Athletic were swept aside by a brilliant first-half display that brought three goals in 22 minutes to effectively end the game as a contest.
“It was a horrible day,” admitted Valverde after the match and it really was for Athletic who were expected to provide a tough test but were beaten after just 22 minutes.
Valverde actually possesses a pretty miserable record against Barcelona.
He has lost his last eight games against Barca in La Liga, his worst losing run against an opponent in his career as coach in the competition.
Dembele uses his head
Ousmane Dembele has been a little frustrating this season but showed exactly what he can do against Athletic with a simply brilliant showing.
Xavi had backed the Frenchman again before the match and was rewarded as Dembele produced his top form to sweep Athletic away.
Dembele opened the scoring with his first headed goal for the club after he’d seen a good shot saved. It was also Barca’s 4,000th home goal in La Liga.
4 - With a goal and three assists, Ousmane Dembéle has been directly involved in four goals in a single game for Barcelona for the first time in all competitions (165 games). Stellar. pic.twitter.com/aY1qAN7ZJn— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 23, 2022
Yet he also used his head in other ways. Dembele’s decision-making has been questioned this season but was on the money against Athletic.
The forward played a role in Sergi Roberto’s strike, teed up Lewandowski superbly for No. 3 and then finished off Athletic by assisting Ferran Torres for Barca’s fourth.
It’s the sort of performance that Xavi and Barca fans have been craving from Dembele. The big question now is whether he can go on and produce this type of showing on a regular basis.
Ferran’s improved form continues
Ferran Torres was on the scoresheet again for Barcelona as the forward’s form continue to improve after a poor start to the season.
The Spain international was picked out by Dembele after making a great run but also came up with a superb finish to grab his third goal of the season in all competitions.
Ferran’s finishing hasn’t been the best during his time at Barcelona but he made no mistake against Athletic and you sense that that is a player full of confidence once again.
It was a quite some goal too as you can see below.
20 - Ferrán Torres scored against Athletic the Barcelona's goal with the most passes in LaLiga since March 2021 (22 passes, Antoine Griezmann v Huesca). Elaboration. pic.twitter.com/lRTbSXnP3b— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 24, 2022
Ferran doesn’t have the speed and trickery of forwards such as Dembele, Raphinha and Ansu Fati but he does seem to understand the game far better.
The Spain international’s positioning, work rate, and versatility are also to be valued and mean that, despite all the criticism that has come his way, he is now looking like he can be an important part of the squad.
Balde pockets Nico Williams
Another player who is an increasingly important member of the squad is Alejandro Balde who continues to look Barca’s best left-back.
Sunday’s match was arguably Balde’s best performance of the season and he enjoyed himself up against Nico Williams.
Nico headed to the Camp Nou as a man in form with four assists and three goals in his last 11 matches for club and country but could do nothing against Barcelona.
Balde simply had the forward in his pocket all night long which even led Nico to switch wings in a bid to try and find some joy.
It’s another great showing from Balde who is getting better and better as the season progresses. Will he even get a start in the Champions League on Wednesday now?