In an astounding night of football, Barcelona thrashed Real Sociedad 1-6 to go second in La Liga.
The result was obviously emphatic but what really sparkled on Sunday night was Barcelona’s performance. The Blaugrana were fluid an ferocious, they passed and pressed in equal measure, mixing up long and short passes. It was as good as they’ve played all season and showed they will look to build on their brilliance in Paris and try and push Atleti all the way in La Liga.
And while it would be easy to wax lyrical about Marc-André Ter Stegen’s big saves, or Oscar Mingueza’s relentless solidity, or Frenkie De Jong’s absurd ease at playing a libero role at the heart of a back three, or Sergio Busquets’ dominance in the middle of the park, or Ousmane Dembélé’s incredible performance as the side’s lead forward constantly stretching play and scoring (twice), or Riqui Puig’s bright cameo, or Leo Messi’s resplendent performance (two goals and assist takes him to 31 direct goal involvements in La Liga this season) on the day of his record-breaking 768th Barcelona appearance. No man in history has played more competitive games for the Blaugrana than the Argentine.
Despite all of that, the big story from the night, the big gamechanging element of Barcelona’s play, was Sergino Dest at right wing-back.
3 – @FCBarcelona's Sergiño Dest 🇺🇸 is the third American player to score in @LaLigaEN history, after Jozy Altidore in 2008 (1) and Yunus Musah in 2020 (1), and the first to score a brace. Jazz. pic.twitter.com/aMcsw1xEIt
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 21, 2021
The American was a much-wanted prospect in the summer and it looked like Bayern Munich had the inside track on signing him. But Ronald Koeman insisted the Blaugrana get him (they were looking at Norwich’s Max Aarons) and so they did what their manager wanted.
He didn’t impress straight away but Ronald Koeman never lost faith in him, continued to play him and eventually he began to find his rhythm. The American excelled in Barcelona’s 1-1 draw in Paris but tonight we had a glimpse of the full range of his skill-set.
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His first major contribution was his quietest but possibly his most important. About a minute before Antoine Griezmann stabbed home the rebound to open the scoring, Sergino Dest had the ball on the right flank and where the vast majority of Barcelona full-backs since Dani Alves was in his pomp would have either turned back and passed the ball to a midfielder, either slowly or quickly looking for a one-two, Dest is built different.
That’s not to say he is the next Dani Alves but he has that same courage and he showed that by taking his man on, beating them and driving a beauty of a cross into the box. The ball sailed so much that Alex Remiro had to stretch and tip the ball onto the bar to stop it going in, after which point Barcelona recycle possession quickly, Alba crosses, Dembélé’s shot is saved and Griezmann pounces.
But none of that happens without Dest having the confidence and ability to drive at his man. And that alone would have made him a gamechanger because Barcelona haven’t had that kind of thrust on the right for years and years, pushing everything down Jordi Alba.
Lionel Messi's last 14 LaLiga games:
31 goals and assists in 26 games in total. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/vPbzFxQ99v
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 21, 2021
There was more, however. Dest continued to drive forward intelligently, providing width to stretch La Real horizontally as much as vertically. And just before half-time Dest drove in off the flank onto a delicious Messi pass and thundered home Barcelona’s second goal.
Again: the confidence in front of goal is gamechanging for the Blaugrana, especially if they continue to play his 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 formation. The amount of Barcelona goals that have been missed over the years because full-backs didn’t have the guts to shoot… this confidence is huge.
Dest wasn’t done either, showing up again in the second-half to make it 0-3. Jordi Alba attacked well down the left and fizzed a ball across the box in front of the face of goal which, of course with no true no. 9 on the pitch went untroubled until a defender cleared it, but only onto Dest’s foot. The American had stampeded in from wide to make the kind of run his strikers didn’t and as a result turned a clearance into a goal as his block ricocheted into the net.
Dest is now the highest-ever American goalscorer in La Liga history, which is impressive on a number of levels. And while Ronald Koeman will be glad and impressed about basically everything on the night, Dest’s dynamism and dominance on the right is the one thing that elevates this Blaugrana side into a true multi-dimensional attacking threat that can hurt you from any angle.
This is the gamechanger that might yet lead to them winning La Liga this season.