Barca rediscover shooting boots
Barcelona travelled to Valencia for another crunch game fresh from a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Napoli which saw the Catalans struggle to score despite creating a host of opportunities. The frustration was so great Ferran Torres left the pitch in tears.
It was a different story altogether on Sunday as the Barcelona players were all smiles as they left the pitch at Mestalla and were warmly greeted by Xavi and his staff in the tunnel after an impressive 4-1 win.
New signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got off the mark, and actually ended the game with a hat-trick, while there was another goal from midfield as Frenkie de Jong also found himself on the scoresheet.
Indeed Barca’s four goals came from just six attempts and means the team have now netted 10 times in their last three league games. It was a fine response from Thursday’s frustration and sets the team up nicely for the trip to Naples.
Auba’s still got it
Aubameyang’s performance in particular bodes extremely well for the future. There were a few eyebrows raised when Barca went for the striker on deadline day and some questions over whether the 32-year-old still has what it takes to shine at the top level.
The early signs have been good and Sunday’s hat-trick will fill Aubameyang full of confidence, that vital commodity which is so important to strikers. His first goal was a brilliant finish, the second an easy tap-in and the third came from an ‘assist’ from Pedri, according to Auba....
Auba also scored a hat-trick on his last visit to Mestalla with Arsenal and you suspect Valencia are probably sick of the sight of him. Barca will now be hoping Auba can continue that form on Thursday at Napoli where goals will be needed to progress in the Europa League.
Sergino Dest steps up
Sergino Dest may also continue in the line-up against Napoli, with Dani Alves ineligible, and after putting in arguably his best performance of the season at Valencia on Sunday.
The USMNT star has endured something of a difficult campaign so far, and been linked with a Barcelona exit following Xavi’s arrival, but Sunday’s showing was definitely a step in the right direction.
Dest had his work cut out too against Bryan Gil. The winger did get the better of Dest at times but overall the 21-year-old looked far more solid and switched on defensively. He certainly earned some praise from Xavi after the match.
“Let’s take Sergino as an example. When we got here, he wasn’t doing so well, but now he is doing great,” he said. “I thought he was spectacularly good, both with the ball and without it. I am really happy with his progress.”
Barca’s defense still lacking
Dest’s performance was a plus but there’s no doubt Barca’s defense is still lacking. Question marks will remain over Marc-Andre ter Stegen after a few more shaky moments that Barca just about got away with.
The departure of Eric Garcia at half-time, which was reportedly a precautionary move, also didn’t help matters. Oscar Mingueza arrived and was all over the place for Carlos Soler’s goal which made it 3-1.
Valencia’s goal did make the second half nervy, until Barca’s fourth went in, and left Xavi admitting his team still need to improve at the back.
“We have to be more consistent and reliable,” he said. “We have to know how to defend with and without the ball, and we’re lacking that.”
The good news in defense was that Ronald Araujo was back and enjoyed another strong performance, despite Xavi admitting afterwards he was playing through the pain barrier.
Xavi’s team is starting to click
Barcelona’s big win over Valencia showed that Xavi’s team continues to grow and is really starting to click.
Xavi’s not been beaten in La Liga since December and the tricky run of February fixtures has so far yielded impressive wins over Atleti and Valencia and draws with Espanyol and Napoli.
Most importantly, the new coach has the team really playing again. The passing is quicker, there’s an intensity, a confidence, and a belief that has been missing for so long. More than anything, the players look to be enjoying their football again.
Barca’s third goal is probably the best example of how good things are looking right now.
Xavi’s also been able to rest players despite the demanding fixture list. Sergio Busquets dropped out of the starting XI against Napoli, while it was Pedri’s turn to be given a breather on Sunday.
Pedri still managed to make an impact, coming off the bench and scoring a goal that was later given to Aubameyang, while 17-year-old Gavi continues to be bafflingly good and already a key player.
Barca now head into another crucial week with two tough games against Napoli and Athletic to come. Yet confidence will be high at the Camp Nou and fans can look forward to the two games with excitement rather than trepidation.