Mind the gap, Madrid
Barcelona increased their gap at the top of the table to eight points after an impressive victory over Sevilla on Sunday
Real Madrid’s surprise defeat to Mallorca earlier in the day had presented Barca with the chance to increase the gap at the top and the Catalans took full advantage.
@socios | #TheFansGame | #LaLigaSantander pic.twitter.com/5SzaOLBbvG— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) February 5, 2023
The hosts found it hard going in the first half, against a Sevilla team that looked as if they’d come for a point and a point only, but kept going and ran out 3-0 winners.
Xavi refused to get too excited after the game and insisted Madrid are more than capable of coming back.
“This team has the capacity to win every title we’re competing for. But we can’t only say it, we have to show it. Words mean nothing. There have been crazy comebacks in La Liga before,” he said. “We have to avoid that at all costs. I still don’t think we’re the favourites for La Liga. We’re only in February, and we have any tough matches upcoming. The euphoria is nice, but we have to be cautious.”
Of course, it’s far too early to think about the title yet, with almost half a season still to play, but culers can be forgiven for getting excited about this team.
Kessie takes his chance
Franck Kessie has had to be patient this season and wait for his chance at Barcelona following his summer move from AC Milan. It duly presented itself after just a few minutes of the win over Sevilla when Busquets was forced off with an ankle injury.
Xavi quickly sent on Kessie and will have been impressed by the Ivorian’s contribution. A delightful bit of play set up Jordi Alba for the opening goal which saw Sevilla’s resistance finally broken.
This pass from Kessié. So, so good. pic.twitter.com/DaV4yZbQyw— The Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast) February 6, 2023
Kessie also helped out in defense and put in his most important performance for Barcelona since joining. There will be a few more chances now that Barca have confirmed Busquets has a sprained ankle ligament and will be out for a little while.
Barca will be hoping that Kessie can kick on from this game and show why the club were so keen to bring him in from Milan. The Ivorian has already been linked with a summer exit but should now have a run of games that could well decide whether he stays on at the club.
More of the same please, Raphinha
It was another game and another goal from Raphinha who is clearly growing in confidence after a tough start to his Barcelona career. The Brazilian now has two assists and two goals in his last four La Liga games and is hitting form at a good time.
The absence of Ousmane Dembele was felt in the first half, but Xavi stuck with Raphinha and was rewarded for his faith. The former Leeds United man played an exquisite ball through to Gavi to make it 2-0 before adding Barcelona’s third of the night.
Raphinha’s stats since the turn of the year will certainly put a smile on his face.
Raphinha has 8 goal contributions across all competitions in 2023 (4G, 4A), more than any other La Liga player. pic.twitter.com/9gGATd2jb6— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 5, 2023
“I was already happy with Raphinha despite the criticism there had been. He’s a generous player, really intense in the press,” said Xavi. “Now he’s adding decisive goals and assists. We’re talking about him because he’s scored in two games running and it seems he’s standing out more, but he has been doing it all season.”
Raphinha’s work rate hasn’t been in doubt but he’s now adding the goals and assists that Barca were expecting when they signed him. Let’s hope for more of the same for the rest of the season.
Is Balde getting the best out of Alba?
Jordi Alba was back in the team in place of Alejandro Balde, who missed training on Saturday due to a fever, and put in another influential showing. The left-back opened the scoring with his first goal of the season and then teed up Raphinha for Barcelona’s third of the night.
Balde is pushing Alba increasingly hard for the starting spot at left-back but the veteran is responding extremely well, as the stats show.
1+1 - Jordi Alba has both scored and assisted in the same LaLiga game for the fourth time, all four with Barcelona. He has done it twice in his last 17 games in the competition, as many times as in his previous 360 league games for his current side and Valencia. Airplane. pic.twitter.com/zEpesm59Fk— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 6, 2023
Alba also said all the right things after the match when asked if he’d sent a message to Xavi about his game time with his display.
“I’m not one to give messages,” he added. “When I play, I make the most of the minutes and when I don’t, I dedicate myself to encouraging and helping the youngsters to know what it means to play for this club.”
Competition for places is always good and Barca’s two left-backs are proving exactly that right now.
10 out of 10 for Barcelona
The last couple of years have been rollercoaster rides for Barcelona and us fans but 2023 has been plain sailing so far. There have been 10 games played and 10 straight wins. Xavi’s even delivered a trophy, not one that will be wildly celebrated, but a trophy nonetheless.
The manager spoke about the importance of winning the Super Cup for confidence and belief and it looks like it has had an effect. Barca often struggle against low blocks at home, and they did against Sevilla, but they kept on going and got their reward.
⚠️ | QUICK STAT— Sofascore (@SofascoreINT) February 5, 2023
Barcelona in 2023:
✅ 4–3 v Intercity
✅ 1–0 v Atlético
✅ 2–2 (4–2 AP) v Real Betis
✅ 3–1 v Real Madrid
✅ 5–0 v AD Ceuta
✅ 1–0 v Getafe
✅ 1–0 v Real Sociedad
✅ 1–0 v Girona
✅ 2–1 v Real Betis
✅ 3–0 v Sevilla
Make that 10 out of 10 for Xavi's troops! pic.twitter.com/1Jo1bdblme
Sunday’s victory was particularly important as no other teams in the top six won this weekend, allowing Barca to grab some breathing space at the top of the league.
Barca now have the luxury of a week off before a run of five games in two weeks between now and the end of the month. Enjoy the calm before the rollercoaster returns.