Barcelona rise to February challenge
Sunday’s 4-0 win over Athletic saw Barcelona complete a tricky set of February fixtures and pick up another resounding and impressive win.
The Catalans have put four goals past Atletico, Valencia, Napoli and Athletic this month, winning all four games, to boost their chances of a top-four finish and Europa League glory.
The other two matches played ended in a 2-2 draw at Espanyol and a 1-1 first-leg draw against Napoli. Yet don’t forget that was also a game where Barca missed a hatful of chances.
All of which means Barca is a very different place from earlier this season. The goals are flowing, Xavi has the team really playing and now the results are coming too.
Bring on the rest of the season.
Barcelona manage an actual clean sheet
There were plenty of positives from Sunday’s win, not least the sight of Barcelona keeping an actual clean sheet. That’s the team’s first shutout for over a month and only their third of the year so far.
It’s worth remembering that Barca did face an Athletic side with one eye firmly on their Copa del Rey tie with Valencia. So much so that the Williams brothers did not appear until the latter stages of the second half.
Yet Barca had the game tied up by the time Ousmane Dembele made it 2-0 on 73 minutes. The Frenchman then set up goals for substitutes Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay to add some real gloss to the scoreline.
However, there’s no doubt that Barca were in complete control throughout. The Catalans ended the game with 72% possession, managed 17 goals attempts and completed 719 of their 788 passes during the 90 minutes.
Auba can’t stop scoring but Ferran keeps missing
Barcelona’s first goal had come, once again, from the foot of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who made it five in his last three games for his new club after pouncing in the penalty area.
Gerard Pique had headed a corner onto the crossbar but it was Aubameyang who reacted quickest to slot the ball home and continue his fine start to life at the Camp Nou. Signed on a free transfer, the Gabon international already looks a great addition to the squad.
It was a different story altogether in front of goal for Ferran Torres. The new-boy once again had chances to score but once again could not find the back of the net despite his best efforts.
The clearest chance came in the second half when he won possession high up the field, raced forward and only had Unai Simon to beat but saw his shot saved. Xavi is confident the goals will come for Ferran but it’s just not happening right now for the forward.
Should Barca try to keep Dembele after all?
One player who certainly did find the back of the net against Athletic was substitute Ousmane Dembele who smashed home the hosts’ second with a brilliant finish for his first goal of the season.
Dembele actually replaced Ferran on 67 minutes, after Xavi started Adama Traore over the Frenchman again, and was once again greeted by whistles. This time they didn’t last long as Dembele quietened his critics very quickly with a superb showing.
Ousmane Dembele Athletic Club— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 28, 2022
⏱️ Mins played - 23
Shots - 2
⚽️ Goals - 1
Key passes - 3
️ Assists - 2
️ Rating - 8.77
⭐️ MotM awards - 1
Dembele's rating was the best earned by a substitute in a La Liga match this season pic.twitter.com/qgz3pTvupV
Not content with making it 2-0, the 24-year-old then laid on a goal for Luuk de Jong to make it 3-0 before grabbing another assist in stoppage time for Memphis Depay on his return from injury.
This was Dembele back to his best which will undoubtedly prompt questions of whether Barca should try to keep him after all.
Xavi’s already made it clear he thinks Dembele can be important for Barca, while we don’t really know what the forward actually wants.
It’s also not clear if Barca will make another effort, but much may depend on whether Dembele can stay fit and firing for the rest of the campaign.
Pedri puts on a show
Dembele wasn’t the only player putting on a show at the Camp Nou as 19-year-old Pedri once again demonstrated why his manager keeps waxing lyrical about the midfielder.
Xavi said “there’s no bigger prospect in the world than him” after Pedri had scored in the win over Valencia and was at it again on Sunday night.
“If we’re talking about pure talent, Pedri is the best in the world,” he said after the match. It didn’t stop there either, as Xavi went on to admit the youngster reminds him of none other than Andres Iniesta.
The Barcelona coach knows all about being a world-beating midfielder and his clear delight at coaching Xavi speaks absolute volumes.
The Camp Nou loved Pedri’s performance too, particularly that nutmeg in the second half which had the 69,770 supporters in attendance on their feet.
Pedri pulled the strings all night for Barcelona in a performance that belied his years. He ended up with a pass accuracy of 93%, played 8/8 accurate long balls, completed 3/3 dribbles, won two tackles and 8/10 duels. And the scary thing is (if you’re not a Barca fan at least) is he doesn’t even turn 20 until November.