Barcelona move three points clear
Barcelona’s win over Atletico has moved Xavi’s side three points clear at the top of the table, coming as it did on a weekend when Real Madrid surprisingly dropped points.
Xavi said before the match that Barca could make a big statement by beating Atletico and that’s exactly what they did, even though it really wasn’t pretty at times.
Barca’s goal was certainly easy on the eye. Pedri drove forward, Gavi turned his man and then Dembele lasered the ball past Jan Oblak.
Pedri should have made it 2-0 but couldn’t beat Jan Oblak, and Barca then needed Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Ronald Araujo and the rest of their defence to see out the win.
Xavi admitted afterwards the victory was a “huge morale boost” for his team, and the way the players celebrated showed exactly how much it meant to Barcelona.
Xavi goes with four midfielders
Xavi raised a few eyebrows with his team selection for this one. The coach was without Robert Lewandowski and decided to go with four midfielders instead.
Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Gavi were all in from the start, with Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele featuring further forwards.
Xavi’s system worked well early on as Barca made a bright start to the match and Pedri and Gavi linked up for Dembele’s goal after 22 minutes.
The coach spoke about his system after the game and singled out Pedri for praise.
“We tried to have superiority inside. We won today because we prepared really well tactically,” he said. “Pedri made the difference for the team, especially in the first half. Of course we suffered. We need to suffer sometimes in this competition.”
10 - Pedri González made 10 recoveries against Atlético de Madrid, his highest tally in a single game for Barcelona in all competitions under Xavi Hernández. Tireless. pic.twitter.com/qoIHpY42bk— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 8, 2023
Yet it became more complicated as the game wore on and, as we’ve seen a number of times already, Barca were unable to kill the game off after taking the lead. Instead, Atletico fought back and took control of the game in the midfield, while Barca relied on their defence to see it out.
The match did show that Barca can win without Lewandowski, but it remains to be seen if Xavi will use the same system again next time out in La Liga. The coach is still without hi stop scorer for the next two league games.
Dembele finally finds a finish
Ousmane Dembele can be frustrating in front of goal but he found a clinical finish when it was needed to secure Barca all three points against Atletico.
The Frenchman was teed up perfectly by Pedri and Gavi and beat Jan Oblak comfortably with a first-team finish that was lashed across goal and into the far corner.
Dembele now has two in two for Barca and was the man to come up with the goods with Lewandowski watching on from the sidelines.
2 - Ousmane Dembélé is one of only two players to have scored 5+ goals and provided 5+ assists in LaLiga this season, after Antoine Griezmann (also 5 and 5). Stinger. pic.twitter.com/zijmAjk4IQ— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 8, 2023
The winger still has the ability to frustate, and did so on several occasions here, but he still looked Barca’s biggest threat all night with his speed causing the hosts problems.
Dembele still needs to improve his finishing and decision-making in front of goal, but his contribution showed why Xavi continues to offer him his full backing.
Christensen proving a great signing
Barcelona won the game through Dembele’s goal but it was the defenders who should take the credit for a superb display. Xavi’s side now have 12 clean sheets from 16 matches this season, only Deportivo in 1993-94 have managed more, according to Opta.
Ronald Araujo was key again, making a second goalline clearance in a week, and has walked straight back into the team after four months out with no problems at all.
Yet he wasn’t the only one to impress. Andreas Christensen was superb against Atletico and is starting to look a really smart piece of business by Xavi’s side.
Andreas Christensen against Atlético Madrid:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 8, 2023
- 102 touches
- 9 recoveries
- 5 clearances
- 3 interceptions
- 1 shot on target
- 100% aerial duels won
- 96% accurate passes
- Completed the most passes pic.twitter.com/swlFmLKadg
There weren’t too many celebrations when Christensen arrived from Chelsea on a free transfer in the summer. The Dane is a quiet character and has openly admitted to finding his last few months at Chelsea mentally tough.
Christensen then saw his first few months at Barca disrupted by injury but he’s returned and is looking like he’ll play at key role in the heart of the defense alongside Araujo this season, provided both players can stay fit.
Another red card for Barcelona
Barcelona ended Sunday’s game with 10 men once again after Ferran Torres was red-carded for a wrestling match with Stefan Savic. Xavi’s side have now had three red cards in their last three La Liga matches which is not a trend they will want to continue.
The two players can’t have any complaints about their sending off, and it remains to be seen how many games they’ll miss. Early reports suggest Ferran could be sidelined for the next two or three La Liga games.
Torres’s forthcoming ban comes at a bad time for Barca with Lewandowski also suspended. The main beneficiary is likely to be Ansu Fati once again. The youngster started against Atletico but had a pretty quiet game.
Memphis Depay may also be an option, although he hasn’t featured in La Liga for Barcelona since the World Cup and speculation continues he could leave in the January transfer window.