Ansu ends tough week on a high
Ansu Fati was finally back in the goals for Barcelona after a tough week which had seen his father publicly criticise Xavi and the club for not playing his son regularly this season.
A start against Elche always looked likely, with Raphinha and Ousmane Dembele out, and Ansu shook off a disappointing first half showing to end his long wait for a La Liga goal.
The youngster hadn’t scored in the Spanish top flight since October but made it 2-0 with a fine strike.
A cute pass from Ferran Torres sent him running through on goal, and he came up with the goods, firing a clinical shot across goal and into the far corner.
“Ansu needed that goal,” said Xavi after the match. “Forwards change their faces when they score, you can tell. He was very tired at the end, because he worked very hard for the team in defence. The goal is the result of his hard work and individual talent.”
The smile on his face as the ball hit the net said it all. The celebrations with Alejandro Balde and Gavi also seemed very heartfelt. He needed that goal alright.
Gavi rises above the noise
Gavi’s another player who has had something of a tricky week with a lot of nonsense written about the teenager during his time away from the club on international duty.
The midfielder also had to don his old No. 30 shirt once again versus Elche after La Liga reversed his first-team registration and took away his No. 6.
Did any of that affect Barca’s little tyro? Not one little bit. Gavi was his usual effervesent presence, providing Barca with the intensity they need and showing he can play a bit too.
His tenacity got a deserved reward when he pinched the ball and teed up Lewandowski for his second before he was given a breather with 20 minutes to go.
There were a few whistles from the home fans as he went off, presumably because of what’s been in the media, but that won’t worry Gavi who’ll be relishing taking on Madrid again next.
Eric’s Elche experiment
Xavi fielded Eric Garcia in midfield against Elche, after hinting at the possibility ahead of the game, and saw the 22-year-old put in a decent shift against La Liga’s bottom side.
The Barcelona boss admitted after the game that it had all been Jordi Cruyff’s idea but credit to Xavi for having the courage to give it a go at Elche.
Xavi praised Eric after the game for his display, while the team’s latest midfielder admitted that although he’s really a defender he’s happy to play anywhere for Barcelona.
Eric Garcia’s pass map tonight. Only 6 misplaced passes. pic.twitter.com/XiuBR7BW8Y— total Barça (@totalBarca) April 1, 2023
It’s not clear if or when we’ll see Eric in midfield again. Sergio Busquets will return against Real Madrid and Frenkie de Jong is also expected back from injury soon.
Yet with finances tight, signings far from guaranteed and Eric struggling for game time in defense it was certainly a useful experiment that adds to Xavi’s midfield options.
Lewandowski boosts Pichichi hopes
Robert Lewandowski was back in the goals for Barcelona and now has 17 in La Liga for the season after bagging a brace at Elche, putting him firmly in control of the race for the Pichichi once more
They were welcome goals for Lewandowski too. The striker hadn’t scored in the league since the 2-0 win over Cadiz on February 19, meaning his efforts ended a bit of a mini-drought.
The opener wasn’t the cleanest effort the Poland international will ever score but it made the breakthrough and gave Barcelona the lead after 20 minutes.
It’s also the seventh time this season that he’s scored the opening goal for Barcelona, more than any other player in Spain’s top flight.
Lewandowski should have added a second before half-time but did get on the scoresheet again on 65 minutes. The Poland international also created a goal for Ferran Torres which puts him in good shape ahead of the visit from Real Madrid in midweek.
Keep an eye on Aleix Garrido
Xavi handed another Barcelona youngster his debut on Saturday, bringing on midfielder Aleix Garrido in the closing stages with his team 4-0 up and cruising.
Garrido is the latest talent to emerge from La Masia and, along with Estanis Pedrola and Angel Alarcon, will be hoping he can make the step up to the first team.
Xavi is clearly a fan and spoke about the teenager after the match. “He has the Barcelona profile. Technically he is gifted, he has a good final pass... It is still early but he is a player I like.”
There’s been plenty of talk in recent weeks about such talents as Ilias Akhomach and Victor Barbera leaving this summer on free transfers and what that means for the club.
However, the sight of Garrido, Alarcon, Pedrola and Co. all featuring this season shows there’s plenty of talent still coming through and Xavi isn’t afraid to use it.