Barcelona extend unbeaten run to move third
Barcelona’s win over Elche extended the team’s unbeaten run in La Liga to 11 games under Xavi and saw the Catalan giants move into third place in the table.
Atletico Madrid’s victory over Real Betis later in the day ensured Xavi’s side stayed there too, level on points with the defending champions but with a game in hand.
A top-four finish had looked unlikely a few months ago but is now safely in Barca’s hands, and second-placed Sevilla may just be looking over their shoulders too.
Julen Lopetegui’s side are still seven points ahead of Barca, but have played a game more, and the two teams will meet in less than a month in La Liga at the Camp Nou.
Elche exploit ageing Alves
Barca did have to come from behind to take all three points after Elche pounced on a mistake from Pedri to open the scoring through Fidel Chaves just before half-time.
The hosts had not lost at home under Francisco heading into the game and did cause Barcelona problems, particularly down the right side where Dani Alves was targeted.
The 38-year-old Brazilian did fine going forwards (creating two chances, completing 91% of his passes) but struggled to keep up at times when Elche attacked with pace.
Xavi eventually brought on Sergino Dest for the final few minutes, but you got the feeling the in-form American probably should have come on a bit earlier.
Dest will be in from the start against Galatasaray on Thursday in the Europa League and will get another chance to stake his claim for more minutes.
Alves did appear to have cemented his place in the starting XI but Dest’s improvement means there is now real competition for the right-back slot which can only be a good thing.
Improving Araujo impresses Xavi
Another player who is enjoying life under Xavi is Ronald Araujo. The center-back is clearly improving on the ball and is now looking to drive forwards from the back.
Araujo’s ability as a defender has never been in doubt, but if there has been a weakness in his game it’s been his inability or unwillingness to bring the ball out of defence.
That seems to be something Xavi has been working on and he spoke out about the Uruguayan after the match, offering some real praise.
“Maybe Araujo is the player who has improved the most since I took over, above all with the ball because he is taking risks. He is driving with the ball. Today he was the free man,” he said. “There were times he was the advanced midfielder. He’s changed how he plays, which is what we demand, and is gaining weight within the team. Without the ball, he’s one of the best in the world, with the ball he had to improve. It’s fundamental for him and the team.”
Meanwhile, rumors about Araujo’s future continue to swirl around. The defender is reportedly in contract extension talks and let’s hope Barca can get the deal done quickly.
Ferran’s finishing is frustrating
New signing Ferran Torres was left on the bench against Elche but came on at half-time for Gavi, who had endured an unusually ineffective first half playing on the left of the attack, and helped change the game.
Ferran’s equalizer wasn’t the prettiest goal he’ll ever score but it was extremely important and helped set up Barca for victory. It was also the 22-year-old’s first Barcelona goal in La Liga.
6 - Ferrán Torres has made six shots in 45 minutes vs Elche today, more than any other game for him in the Top 5 European League, being his second negative difference between goals scored (1) & Expected Goals (1,9) in his career (-0,9). Persistence#ElcheBarca #FCB ❤ pic.twitter.com/MreKxuSz3t— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 6, 2022
There should have been a few more too but Ferran was denied by a combination of some poor finishing and a fine save from Elche goalkeeper Edgar Badia. Torres can be frustrating in front of goal but it’s certainly not luck that he’s getting into the right positions and having so many chances.
Memphis and Barca’s supersubs
Barca had to work hard for their win over Elche, and indeed you got the feeling this was the kind of game they would have lost a few months ago, but they were also indebted to their substitutes for the victory.
Last weekend Ousmane Dembele, Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay all came off the bench to secure the win against Athletic and this time around it was a similar story as the goals came from the subs.
The Catalans had found it tough going against Francisco’s side but had the luxury of being able to bring on Ferran, Nico Gonzalez, Adama Traore, Memphis, and Dest in the second half.
We all know the January signings have boosted Barcelona, but Xavi really is now spoilt for choice, particularly in attack. Martin Braithwaite didn’t even make the squad, while the in-form Luuk de Jong didn’t get a single minute.
Memphis did and offered up another reminder that he can still be useful. The Dutchman scored on his comeback from injury last time out and did so again here. His penalty to win the game for Barca was expertly dispatched for his 10th of the season.
The new arrivals in the winter transfer window have already prompted speculation that Memphis could leave at the end of the season. Yet the Dutchman remains Barca’s top scorer this season and, at the very least, is proving a decent option to have on the bench.