Confidence around the club has been high recently. Mostly due to their dominant displays against Valencia and Napoli, both of which came away from home. But all the momentum in the world can come to a crashing halt. Especially if you slip up against a club like Athletic Bilbao, a foe that’s been a thorn in the Barcelona side in recent seasons.
The ball was in Barca’s court. Would they fail the mission at hand? Or would they capitalize on their recent form of play?
We got our answer, and for Barca fans, it was a good one.
Unlike their last match against Napoli, the first half wasn’t littered with goals for Barca today.
Barca took their time, lulling their foes while waiting for the right scoring opportunities. Possession was aplenty — in key areas especially — but the lack of clinical goal scoring chances was evident as well.
One reason for that was the barrage of crosses Barca wanted to attack early on. Based on how the game flowed through the first 20 minutes or so, it felt like Xavi’s message was insistent and obvious.
Send as many crosses into the box as you can. Or find a way to get the ball to Adama Traore, and let him create on the right flank.
As a result of Xavi’s plan, Barca couldn’t consistently create the dangerous goal scoring chances necessary to break the door open on the scoreboard.
However, Barca did indeed stumble onto a few chances to push the ball into the back of the net. One of them coming from Gavi. Who skied a point blank shot after a wonderful play by Ferran Torres.
The next came from Torres himself. But he was denied a goal after a beautiful solo run by Traore, who then laid the ball off to Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, before he gave the gliding Torres a decent opportunity to put a shot on target.
After Barca failed to convert on their previous chances, they finally received a breakthrough. This time from Aubameyang, who scored his fifth goal in three games. It was a grimy finish, one that required Aubameyang to pull off a difficult stunt midair after a Gerard Pique header hit the crossbar.
Once Aubameyang’s goal went through, Barca took a 1-0 lead into halftime. It was clear Xavi’s side had work to do, specifically in the attack. The question was, would they make the necessary adjustments to make that work worthwhile.
We got our answer in the second half.
The second half was when Barca truly hit their stride. After a concerning 10+ minutes of legit countering by Athletic Bilbao, it seemed that Barcelona was on their way to a competitive finish at the Camp Nou.
That statement was proven further, after Torres failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity just after 60 minutes had been played.
Torres recovered the ball for Barcelona after an egregious mistake by the Athletic Bilbao defense. He had a one on one showdown with Unai Simon, a clear cut chance to finally end his goal scoring drought. But Torres’ shot was saved. Keeping Barca’s 1-0 lead intact, while also decreasing the confidence of an important player even further.
Once Torres failed to slide his shot past Simon, optimism began to decrease surrounding Barca. With Athletic Club still hanging around, the thought of a disappointing equalizer immediately shot into the brains of supporters.
But the breakthrough Barca needed finally came. And it came from a name many fans have discarded with a few months left to go in the season.
Dembele to the rescue
With 67 minutes played, Xavi decided to take off Torres, and send in Ousmane Dembele. Dembele was met with a loud charade of whistles, something he’s become accustomed to after his ugly contract dispute became public within the Spanish media.
But instead of letting the boos affect his play, Dembele used them as fuel to increase his quality. After 73 showed why. Dembele received a ball on the left flank of the Barcelona attack, dribbled and accelerated into the Bilbao penalty area. He then fired an exemplary shot past Simon, and gave Barca the extra goal they so desperately desired.
Dembele’s game changing performance didn’t stop there either.
He contributed to Barca’s final goals on the match. By delivering excellent crosses into the box, then simply waiting for Memphis Depay and Luuk De Jong to provide the end product.
These performances by Dembele are the exact reason some want him to renew his contract. He still has a habit of being dispossessed at times. But when his pace and electricity elevate his teammates around him, there’s no player that can match his personal impact.
Barca ended the match with a 4-0 win. An important win to maintain their positive spirits, and also their important 4th place spot on the table.
Barca’s win today wasn’t as electrifying as their previous results. But it still gave them another three points. A very important figure that’ll be important to Barca through the next few months.
The club will have to grind through an important month of fixtures soon. So starting the journey off on the right foot is something that can’t be ignored.
Barca’s next match
Barca’s next match with be on March 6th against Elche.
See you all then!