After seven long days without any action from Xavi’s Barca side, they returned today with an away match against Elche.
Elche isn’t a well known La Liga club to the outside fan. They’re not a powerhouse and they haven’t made serious strides in the top flight of Spanish football in their near 100 year history as a club.
But they’re a feisty side that’s made life difficult for some of their opposing foes this season.
That’s why today’s match at Elche wasn’t a shoe in guaranteed win for Barca. Even with how well Barca has been playing over the last few weeks.
However, Barca’s foundation has steadily been establishing itself. So there was still plenty reason to be optimistic about their chances today.
In the end, Barca took home three points on a rainy, overcast day at the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero. It was far from an easy match however, as Barca had to scratch and claw just to put themselves in the position to walk away with the win.
The first half was a bit of a mixed bag from Barca.
On one hand, the squad created a good amount of chances. Defensively, there were some moments where Elche caught Barca napping on the counterattack. But for the most part, those counterattack scenarios didn’t lead to much for the Valencian side.
But on the other hand, Barca couldn’t convert on the chances they created.
Close but no cigar
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang had an easy sitter in the early portion of the match. However, Aubameyang’s shot was blocked, and thus concluded Barca’s first chance of the match.
Another chance came just moments later, With Ousmane Dembele’s chip attempt being saved by Edgar Badia. The rebound then fell to Frenkie De Jong, who appeared to have an easy tap in goal. But the shot was once again blocked and cleared off the line, this time by Diego Gonzalez.
But De Jong’s eye for goal didn’t stop functioning there.
De Jong received another chance to give Barca the first goal of the match. He received a one on one opportunity with Badia, and opened up his shoulders to fire a shot far post. But Badia read it perfectly, and punched De Jong’s shot away.
As the first half went along, the match began to feel like one of missed opportunities for Barca. Not taking advantage of golden opportunities can come back to bite you. Especially away against a feisty side like Elche that was showing zero signs of backing down.
Just before halftime, Barca was predictably punished for missing their previous chances.
Pedri’s clearance in the midfield was poor, which led to another Elche counterattack. This time however, the Valencian side finally found the back of the net.
After a Pedri mistake in the midfield, Fidel Chaves raced towards Barca’s goal with the ball. He then fired a shot just past the outstretched arm of Dani Alves, and it rolled past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s extended arm.
It was a rather sour ending to Barca’s rather impressive first half, a half that saw Barca’s chance creation hit sky high levels of quality.
Xavi’s side needed a boost in the second half. Not only to draw even, but to put themselves in a position to secure three important points.
Once the second half began, Xavi called on a familiar face to begin Barca’s eventual comeback. A face that has struggled in recent weeks, and has been heavily criticized for his lack of impact.
Xavi’s first substitution in the second half involved Ferran Torres. The former Manchester City attacker came on for Pablo Gavi, who couldn’t quite make an impact on the left side as the false winger Xavi envisions him being at times.
Torres didn’t find success initially though. Alves found Torres on the far post after a very decent cross, and Torres had a clear shot to put a strike on goal. But his volley was out of control and flew into the stands.
It appeared Torres’ finishing woes were still present, and for most of the match they were. But when it mattered most, Torres found a way to deliver the goal Barca had been waiting for.
After a Jordi Alba shot that left much to be desired, Torres pounced on the chance to put a strike on goal. Torres didn’t make the cleanest contact with his boot, but it was just enough, as he slid it just past Badia to draw Barca level.
Torres had multiple opportunities to give Barca the lead as well. The first one being a sudden blast from Torres’ right foot after a good looking cross from Adama Traore — who was subbed on in the second half.
The effort was saved in the end by Badia though.
The second chance for Torres came after he made a brilliant run along the left flank. Torres then tried to roll his shot past Badia. But the shot’s trajectory went straight to Badia, who made an easy save.
At this point, it felt like Barca needed some magic to find their second goal. Chances weren’t being converted and Badia was playing like an impenetrable wall in goal.
Luckily for Barca, some magic came their way. But not in open play like their previous chances had been.
Elche defender Antonio Barragan was whistled for a penalty in the 84th minute. Memphis Depay’s flick to keep the ball in play hit Barragan’s arm, which was in a peculiar position.
VAR deemed Barragan’s actions unnecessary, and awarded Barca a penalty. Depay lined up for the penalty, took a few steps, then fired the fantastic shot into the top right corner.
It gave Barca the lead — a lead they never gave up — and sent positive shockwaves throughout the Barca squad.
After the penalty, Barca had to deal with a few scares defensively coming from the Elche side. But in the end, they walked away with three key points, and kept their good position on the La Liga table.
Today’s match vs Elche was stressful for Barca.
They missed too many chances, they were repeatedly beaten on the counterattack, and all hope seemed lost.
But as they’ve shown over the past month, they dug deep, and found a way to win. For a club that’s teetering on the line between Champions League football and Europa League disaster next season, I think the win is all that matters.
Barca’s next match is on Thursday against Galatasaray, their first Europa League clash with the Turkish side in the round of 16.
See you all then!