Football Features

“Watch out PSG!” – Winners and Losers of La Liga gameweek 23 as Leo Messi mangles Alavés to keep Barcelona in the title race

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:23, 13 February 2021 | Updated: 19:49, 10 September 2021

Capping off a great day of La Liga action, Barcelona thrashed Alavés 5-1 at the Camp Nou.

Atlético Madrid opened the day with a win, Sevilla followed suit later but the Blaugrana brought the house down at the end of the night with a rip-roaring display. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Francisco Trincao

It had to happen eventually.

After months of looking so poor he ended up becoming a punchline for Barcelona fans of social media, Francisco Trincao has begun to hit his stride. A superb game-winning goal last week was followed up by a brace this week.

Trincao got the start, his first for the club, in a rotated Barcelona side against Alavés and responded by playing really well. He was lively, intelligent, looking much more confident with much less of the panicked dithering that characterised his earlier performances.

And then the goals. His second was more simple but still showed a confidence to arrive at the right moment and finish first-time, but his first was a Messi-esque low daisy cutter, rocketed off his left foot and straight through the opposing defenders and into the net. He even scored a third but was just fractionally offside before receiving the pass.

If Trincao can keep this level up, his incredible skill-set should see him do some remarkable things.

Loser: Fernando Pacheco

You have to feel for Fernando Pacheco. The former Real Madrid youth team  goalkeeper was absolutely excellent against Barcelona. He put in a incredible display diving all over his goal to repel the relentless Blaugrana. His defence was packed tight ahead of him but it didn’t do much to slow Messi and co. down and they still rained shots down onto their visitors.

Pacheco had to face 17 shots, nine of which were on target. He saved four of them (one of them outrageously good to stop Trincao from getting a hat-trick) and made a heart-stopping intervention to stop Leo Messi from dribbling around him, but in the end he was subject to too much pressure he couldn’t keep everything out and despite his excellence he shipped five.

Winner: Leo Messi

Leo Messi was, as always, integral to Barcelona’s football. However at the start of both halves it appeared like the great man would be denied. He scored a rebound in the first-half that was ruled out for a precision offside in the build-up, and then in the second he was sent through 1-v-1 only to mistime his attempt to go around the goalie and see Trincao slam home the rebound.

But Messi being Messi responded, in a way that only Messi would: by absolutely thundering the ball into the net. Fueled by rage at being denied his goals, he lashed in two sensational strikes. The first an absolute ripper of a low drive that flew in most satisfyingly off both posts, and the second a full-on cannon into the top corner that left poor Dani Pacheco rooted to the floor.

He also found time to get a delirious pre-assist for Barcelona’s fifth goal, because when you’re the best player in the world making a record-equalling 505th La Liga appearance in Blaugrana… why not? Watch out PSG, the king is back in the saddle and ready to ride into battle!

Loser: Sevilla

Since losing to Atlético Madrid, Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla have won an incredible nine straight games across all competitions. They’ve really hit their stride in 2021 with the side starting to score goals in addition to being defensively solid.

And while they followed their brilliant Copa del Rey win over Barcelona by picking up a win themselves. They had to battle hard against Huesca and needed a worldie of a performance from Bounou in goal, but in the end Munir El-Haddadi came off the bench to get the goal.

This moved them up into third and they would have felt so confident in maintaining that spot having just dispatched the Catalans themselves; only for Barcelona to annihilate Alavés and send them back down to fourth.

Not the worst result, but a bit of a reality-check for Lopetegui’s men.

Winner: Atlético Madrid

They just can’t stop winning, can they? Atleti weren’t anywhere near their best away to Granada in the lunch-time kick-off, but they still managed to pull out a victory. First Marcos Llorente scored a sensational goal but after Herrera leveled for Granada, Atleti kept pushing and eventually they found a way through Angel Correa.

The Argentine’s shot took a massive deflection off a defender, looping up over Rui Silva’s head into the back of the net. A ridiculous slice of luck but one that Diego Simeone will take all day long. Even with Barcelona winning, Atleti are back to being 8 points clear atop La Liga with a game in-hand over their rivals. They’re going to take some stopping.

Winner: Ilaix Moriba

At just 18-years-old, Ilaix Moriba was handed a surprise La Liga debut for Barcelona against Alavés. As part of a youthful midfield alongside Riqui Puig, Ilaix showed just why there is so much hope around his future at the Camp Nou. The Spaniard played well, moving the ball around nicely and even getting an assist with a wonderfully deft layoff for Trincao’s opener.

Loser: Ilaix Moriba

Of course Ilaix also blotted his copybook with a sloppy square pass in the second-half, allowing Luis Rioja to intercept and run at a shaky Barcelona back-line. Alright, Samuel Umtiti could have done more to help him by closing Rioja, and of course Ilaix can learn from that mistake. But it was a big mistake all the same.

Winner: Riqui Puig

Ronald Koeman picked an adventurous line-up against Alavés and then made some bold(ish) substitutions when the game could have been taken away from his men in the second-half. So he does deserve some kudos but the finally winner has to be Riqui Puig.

The young Catalan was discarded in the summer. Told to leave, to find a new club. The fans revolted but Koeman was sure he had no room for the youngster. Riqui Puig elected to stay, however, and fight for his place. It seemed ridiculous, but he was convinced. And slowly but surely he began to creep back into his managers plans. Appearances off the bench gave way to a start last week in La Liga, and then a second straight start tonight against Alavés. And not just a start, but he played all 90 minutes and looked sharp.

Riqui no es toca, indeed!