Six changes as Xavi uses his squad
Xavi promised to rotate his squad for this one and was as good as his word, making six changes to his starting XI and handing plenty of players some much-needed minutes.
In defence there were starts for Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba, and Andreas Christensen as Eric Garcia, Ronald Araujo, and Alejandro Balde were rested.
Franck Kessie made his first competitive start and needed just 13 minutes to score, while Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati were also back in the starting XI.
We also got to see Gerard Pique off the bench for the first time this season, and there was also a Champions League debut for Pablo Torre.
It was the perfect game for Xavi to freshen up his squad and offered a host of players the chance to shine. The coach admitted as much after the match but did warn against overconfidence.
“Victories bring confidence, they improve morale. Many players will go home tonight knowing that they had top games,” he said. “But it remains a difficult group, there’s no place for euphoria - this only wins us three points.”
Lewandowski makes life easy
Robert Lewandowski continued his incredible goalscoring form with a hat-trick for Barcelona in another classy performance. Barca’s top scorers last season were Auba and Memphis with 13 each, Lewandowski has eight and it’s only the start of September.
His goals were superb but it wasn’t just that. Lewandowski also impresses with his work-rate, desire, link-up play and his presence also seems to raise the level of his team-mates. He’s already added so much to Barcelona in his short time at the club and it’s obvious that having such a ruthless, clinical presence in attack makes life so much easier.
The best way to start the day pic.twitter.com/Ve1dTMqkO4— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 8, 2022
Sergi Roberto said as much after the game, describing the new signing as “a gift.” Xavi called him “completely insatiable,” while the man of the moment took home the match ball and humbly dedicated the goals to his wife on her birthday.
We all know there will be far tougher tests to come in the Champions League, not least against Bayern next time out, but Lewandowski is looking razor-sharp ahead of his return to the Allianz Arena.
Dembele looks a man reborn
Ousmane Dembele is also looking in fine form ahead of the trip to Germany. The French forward seems a man reborn at the moment both on the pitch and off it.
We rarely hear from the forward but he gave several interviews ahead of the game, opening up about his injury problems and the impact Xavi has had on his career since taking over at Barcelona.
Ousmane Dembele’s game by numbers vs. Victoria Plzen:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 7, 2022
100% tackles won
89% pass accuracy
11/15 ground duels won
6/9 dribbles completed
6 key passes
4/8 crosses completed
2 chances created
Put in another incredible performance. pic.twitter.com/4QenJdtuFV
Certainly Xavi is getting the best out of the 25-year-old. The manager has given Dembele his full backing since arriving and is being rewarded with some impressive displays. Dembele tormented Viktoria Plzen all night long and ended up with two assists.
The first for Lewandowski started with a crunching tackle and then a casual whipped in cross, while the second was a gorgeous ball in for Torres to smash home.
And you get the feeling there’s still more to come from Dembele. Xavi admitted afterwards “he has to score more” and he’s right. Yet Dembele seems to be relishing playing alongside Lewandowski and it will be fascinating to see how he develops this season.
Ferran takes his chance
It will also be interesting to see what happens with Ferran Torres after a lively cameo on Wednesday night. The January signing was once again on the bench against Plzen but arrived and bagged an assist and a goal within five minutes.
It was some goal too by the Spain international. Dembele’s scooped pass was rather special but there was still a lot of work to do. Ferran’s finishing has been questioned since arriving in January but he made no mistake here, smashing the ball in for Barca’s fifth.
Xavi’s always backed Ferran and Wednesday’s showing will have offered the 22-year-old a much-needed confidence boost. The forward spoke after the game about players needing to take their chances in the first team when they come along and he certainly did that.
Can Barcelona beat Bayern?
There were plenty of positives for Barcelona in their win over Viktoria Plzen but the real test will come next week against Bayern. The German giants will have noted Barca’s firepower but also the fact there are still cracks that can be exploited.
Xavi’s side failed to keep a clean sheet against the Czechs and conceded a pretty sloppy goal. Sevilla also had plenty of joy getting in behind at the weekend before being overpowered by Barca’s riches in attack.
Of course there will be changes for the trip to Germany. Sergio Busquets will surely return in midfield and Ronald Araujo will be back in defense and possibly others too.
It will be interesting to see where Jules Kounde plays against Bayern. The Frenchman, who picked up another assist on Wednesday, had another impressive outing but this time at center-back rather than on the right.
New signing Hector Bellerin could come in or Roberto may continue. The much-maligned 30-year-old has started the season well and played down injury concerns after going off at half-time.
Either way it will be intriguing to see how Barca match up against Bayern. The Bavarians kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 win over Inter and won all six group games last season.