In a stifled night of football, Barcelona beat Leganés 2-0 at the Camp Nou.
La Liga’s leaders put in a disjointed performance as Quique Setién rotated his side ahead of Friday’s showdown with Sevilla. What did we learn?
1. Ansu answers the call
Barcelona needed a hero against Leganés. That statement sounds absurd but a combination of an impressive showing from Leganés, a dysfunctional Barcelona midfield and a lot of players who clearly expected the visitors to roll over saw Leganés twice come close to opening the scoring in the early going whilst the Blaugrana never really got going.
Until, that is, late in the first-half when some dogged play from Junior Firpo on the left saw the ball squirm to Ansu on the edge of the box. Surrounded by defenders and with pressure mounting, the youngster would have been forgiven for taking too many touches and being crowded out, but instead he cleared the ball from his feet and skimmed a gorgeous shot low across the ground, away from the keeper and into the back of the net.
In his first LaLiga season, a 17-year-old Lionel Messi scored one goal in seven appearances.
In his first LaLiga season, 17-year-old Ansu Fati has scored five goals in 17 appearances.
Still a loooooong way to go. pic.twitter.com/MnDTyQUiFB
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 16, 2020
It was a huge goal for Barcelona and showed that despite his tender years, Ansu Fati is a player they can count on. The strike was his fifth in La Liga, making him the second-youngest player to reach that milestone this century. He went off before the hour mark, but with Sevilla away on Friday one hopes Quique Setién is keeping him fresh for that.
What’s clear is that whenever Barcelona need him, Ansu Fati answers the call.
2. Midfield misery
When Xavi left Barcelona in 2015, his loss was covered by a combination of Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta upping their game and Messi adjusting to play deeper. It worked, kind of, and Barcelona were supreme. But when Andrés Iniesta left the club in 2018, there was no replacement. Well, there was, as Philippe Coutinho was meant to be the heir to his throne – but that didn’t work out.
So now Barcelona’s midfield has a massive, gaping hole in it: there’s no attacking midfielder. No one to move between the lines on the opposite flank to Messi, to share the playmaking burden with the great man and orchestrate Barcelona’s “weak side.”
Lionel Messi standing with all the players in Europe's top five divisions who have directly contributed to more league goals this season… pic.twitter.com/65JaxQ2q4S
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 16, 2020
For much of the match tonight, and especially in the first-half, Leganés could easily shut Barcelona down by packing men behind ball and swarming Leo Messi whenever the Argentine was in possession. They knew that as well as Arthur and Ivan Rakitic could help Barcelona rotate possession in the middle third, they were far from likely to play a penetrative pass between their defence.
And so the game went. Neither goal scored came from clever midfield play from the Blaugrana, but individual excellence from their forwards (especially the second goal, where Messi had to drive the ball half the length of the pitch on his own). Riqui Puig and Arturo Vidal came on and things definitely picked up – with the teenager twice going close to scoring his side’s third goal with some fantastic movement between the lines. Puig is a young talent from La Masia who is probably Barcelona’s best hope for “filling” the Iniesta role without spending big money or waiting for a miracle rehabilitation from Philippe Coutinho. He should feature more this season.
3. Leganés look to Mallorca
Mallorca and Leganés are the in 18th and 20th place in the table and would have liked to perhaps pick up some points in their opening two games in order to build-up some steam ahead of their relegation showdown at the weekend.
Instead, they have both lost twice. Leganés can count themselves especially unlucky as they have also played well twice, first at home to Valladolid and then tonight away to Barcelona, yet have dropped to bottom. Little Leganés did everything but score at the Camp Nou, hitting the post and having a shot cleared off the line before the Blaugrana had even registered a shot on goal. If they can keep that kind of intensity up against Mallorca, they could finally pick up their first win since the restart and take a big step towards ensuring their survival in La Liga.
4. Barcelona’s luckless strikers
First, there’s Antoine Griezmann. The no. 10 who’s asked to play as a no. 9, or a no. 11, and who no matter how hard he tries cannot seem to develop any chemistry with his team-mates. Whose perpetual tryhard personality has finally translated on the pitch as he looks to do too much and ends up doing nothing at all.
Griezmann didn’t play well today, but did manage to score; smartly converting a Nelson Semedo cross. It was a huge goal and would have been a massive lift for the Frenchman. So of course VAR ruled it out for a marginal offside involving Semedo in the build-up.
Then there’s Luis Suárez, who thought his Barcelona career was over after having surgery back in January. He was scheduled to be out until the summer, which meant the season would be done before he could returned and Barcelona have made no secret of their intention to sign Lautaro Martinez (aka Suárez 2.0) this summer.
Then the delay to the season gave him a lifeline, but it wasn’t a long enough lifeline. The league returned to soon and Suárez is clearly a million miles from being fit to play. He has come on in both games but looks like he can barely trap the ball, let alone play at his usual whirling dervish intensity.
5. Time for Barcelona to step up against Sevilla
Since La Liga has restarted, Barcelona have played two games and won them both. They haven’t conceded a goal and have scored six in return despite never really playing to their top level. That kind of consistency is exactly what you need if you want to win a league title, and it’s something Barcelona haven’t really shown so far this season; where poor or even average performances have led to dropped points.
So, whilst it’s good that Barcelona have found a way to cruise to victories, now they have the tricky task of having to raise their game as they head to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuan to face third-place Sevilla. That is always a tricky contest and one thing is for sure: the Blaugrana will have to play much, much better if they want to pick up their third-straight win.