Barcelona have extended their lead at the top of the La Liga table to 11 points thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica on Super Bowl Sunday. The Blaugrana scored an early goal through Pedri and their defense dominated the rest of the game to pick up three more points at one of the toughest grounds in the country.
Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s action.
Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.
Ronald Araujo: Barcelona’s defense has been dominant all season but they’ve really stepped up their level in 2023, and the entire unit is playing so well that it takes a truly special performance to single out one player. But Araujo was otherwordly tonight, displaying his monster physical skills time and time again to disrupt attacks, make goal-saving interceptions and dominate both in the air and on the ground. A truly spectacular display by one of the world’s best center-backs.
Pedri: Against Sevilla he was asked to run the show alongside Frenkie De Jong, and tonight he was asked to be a classic Number 10 who connects the midfield and attack, makes key passes to forward players and arrives in the box to score goals. He quietly shined against Sevilla, and he loudly shined tonight. Pedri was fantastic all night, and if the forwards didn’t waste so many of his great passes he would have added at least one assist to his tally to go on with his game-winning goal.
Frenkie De Jong & Franck Kessie: Xavi Hernández surprised tonight with a 4-2-3-1 formation with a true double pivot in Franck & Frenkie, something that both players are very used to going back to their Ajax and AC Milan days. And both of them showed why they are so comfortable in that role: De Jong was in charge of the passing and solved every problem that came his way, while Kessie was everywhere defensively and was a big part of the defensive dominance as a shield for the back four. Both of them played well individually but formed such a great partnership that they deserve a combined shoutout.
Gavi: His stats won’t blow you away tonight, but I’m starting to notice a very encouraging development in Gavi’s game the past few weeks as he’s been almost exclusively playing as a wide midfielder-slash-winger: there’s a smart subtlety to his play now, and he’s learning to not play at 300 miles an hour all the time. He knows when to press high but when to stay back to keep the team in a good shape, and he knows when to make runs in behind and when to move into midfield to help the buildup process and open up spaces for the overlapping left-back. Physicality and fighting spirit were the hallmarks of his game, but his brains are really starting to show now. When he finally puts it all together, he’ll be a special player.
Robert Lewandowski: It is with great sadness that I have to mention Lewandowski in this one, but this was a rough night for Barça’s top scorer. He missed an easy chance just three minutes into the game, and despite making an excellent assist to Pedri’s goal he really struggled the rest of the night with the two things he’s always been great at: finishing and decision-making in the final third. Lewy wasted multiple counter-attacks and missed some easy headers and shots in the second half, and he was visibly frustrated with himself by the end of the game. Barça’s defense is clearly dominant but they must be helped by the forwards so they’re not required to defend such a tight margin in every game. Simply put, the Blaugrana won’t get where they want to go this season if Lewandowski doesn’t get back to who he was before the World Cup.