Barcelona back into the top four
Barcelona’s win over Atletico had just about everything: great goals, shabby defending, a red card (or two), a pitch invader, Dani Alves doing Dani Alves things and, crucially, three big points for Xavi’s men.
There was also the sight of an almost full Camp Nou roaring on a Barcelona team that looked a lot like a Barcelona team again. There was an intensity to the hosts’ play and a pace of passing that hasn’t been seen in a long time.
All of which made for an exciting afternoon and a result that sends Barca back into the top four of La Liga for the first time since September. There’s still a long way to go but this game, this result, and this performance will boost belief and fuel optimism that Xavi’s team are going places.
January signings have added quality
Barcelona’s transfer business has been less than impressive in recent years, but there’s no doubt at all that the club’s January signings have added some much-needed quality to the squad.
Dani Alves (more on him later) came up with an assist, a goal and a red card. Ferran Torres also picked up an assist (a little fortuitously but still) and was effective yet again, particularly with his movement off the ball and his athleticism.
And then there was Adama Traore who brought some much-needed spark to Barcelona’s play and caused Atleti all sorts of problems at the back. Xavi could also bring on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the last half hour who proved to be a willing runner and a handy outlet in the closing stages.
It’s a lot different from earlier in the season when injuries meant Xavi was forced to turn to Luuk de Jong and Barca B youngsters Ez Abde and Ferran Torres and bodes well for the rest of the campaign.
Is there anything Gavi can’t do?
Another player who often feels like a new signing is Gavi who continues to thrill in his debut season with the first team. The 17-year-old once again played on the left of the attack with Ferran and Adama and came up with his second La Liga goal of the season.
It wasn’t the type of goal you’d expect to see Gavi score against Atletico either. The midfielder only stands at 5’8 but produced a towering header in the penalty area to nod a cross from Adama past Jan Oblak.
In fact when it comes to using his head, Gavi was simply not going to be beaten all match.
Xavi’s decision to employ Gavi in attack did raise a few eyebrows before the match but was fully justified by the teenager’s performance. The Barcelona boss also spoke about it after the game.
“Gavi can play in many positions, even false 9. I chose to put him as a false winger to form a square inside and leave the wing to Jordi Alba,” he said. “He was looking for superiority inside with Pedri and Frenkie who could offer support.”
There’s also the simple fact that Gavi is so good you simply can’t leave him out right now.
Adama to keep Dembele on the bench?
Xavi also made another big decision in keeping Ousmane Dembele on the bench and starting Adama Traore. Again, it was another call the coach got right with the new boy producing a strong performance on his second debut.
The winger added some real zip to Barca’s play and gave Mario Hermoso a torrid time. Diego Simeone was even forced to to turn to Carrasco to help out on the Atletico left.
Adama Traore provided zero assists in 29 appearances for Wolves...— GOAL (@goal) February 6, 2022
He assisted on his Barcelona debut after 21 minutes pic.twitter.com/xsblCH5Gay
Xavi was full of praise for Adama after the game, calling the winger a “great signing” and on this evidence he looks like being a very useful addition to the squad indeed.
Players are usually judged by the amount of goals and assist they produce, and Adama’s stats (particularly at Wolves) aren’t that impressive. Yet there’s no doubt at all that he is a player who makes things happen.
Adama’s arrival may also mean that Dembele continues on the bench. Xavi started without the Frenchman, despite recalling him to the squad, and you get the feeling he might not get too many opportunities between now and the end of the season.
Alves is still good and crazy
One man who will see plenty of action, despite the fact he’ll turn 39 in May, is the one and only Dani Alves who had himself a game on Sunday. The Brazilian isn’t quite the player he was physically but remains a joyful presence and an incredibly smart player.
Alves rolled back the years with his cross for Jordi Alba to volley home an absolute golazo and then added Barcelona’s fourth with a powerful low shot that prompted wild celebrations around the famous old ground.
38-year-old Dani Alves today:— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 6, 2022
Are you not entertained?! pic.twitter.com/uapoVk3U1w
The goal was his first in La Liga since 2013 and made him Barcelona’s oldest goalscorer ever. There was another first to come too as he then picked up a red card to become the first Barca player since 2004-05 to score, assist and see red in a La Liga game.