Nelson Semedo and Lionel Messi were on target as Barcelona ran out comfortable 0-2 winners over Girona in a clash at the Estadi Montilivi on Sunday.
After an early spell of probing the Girona defence, the visitors took the lead after nine minutes as the ball fell at the feet of Nelson Semedo inside the home side’s box. The full back showed the instincts of a striker to produce a sharp finish on his weaker left foot into the bottom corner.
Barcelona survived a scare just before half time as Gerard Pique was required to clear a Riera Pere Pons shot off the line, with Andre ter Stegen having saved a close range effort from Christian Stuani seconds earlier.
Bernardo Espninosa was sent off early in the second half after picking up a second booking for a clumsy foul, handing further initiative to the visitors.
Lionel Messi doubled Barcelona’s lead with an exquisite finish, as the Argentine received the ball from Jordi Alba in a dangerous area before lobbing Girona goalkeeper Yassine Bounou with a delightful chip, applying his trademark to proceedings and sealing the victory for his side.
Here’s our breakdown of this one.
Starting XI: Bounou (6); Alcala (5), Espinosa (5), Juanpe (6); Porro (6), Pere Pons (7), Granell (6), Fernandez (6); Garcia (7); Portu (6), Stuani (6)
Substitutes: Douglas Luiz (5), Lozano (N/A), Paik (N/A)
Key Talking Point
In the absence of a natural ball-carrying midfielder in the Andres Iniesta mould to patrol the middle of the park, Barça’s attacking trio are often required to blur between the lines of attack and midfield. That generally left the Catalans short of numbers to pose greater, more consistent danger in the final third.
With Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi consistently dropping back from the frontline and into midfield to receive the ball, Barca often lose their attacking threat in the wide areas especially. Valverde’s side missed Ousmane Dembele’s direct pace and natural width in that sense, with the Frenchman sidelined through injury.
Shifting Coutinho into the midfield three could resolve the issue, with the Brazilian capable of covering more ground and moving the ball forward through the lines as Iniesta previously did for Barca with such distinction. The Brazilian appears better suited to receiving the ball from deep and marauding forward, rather than starting in more advanced wide areas.
Starting XI: ter Stegen (6); Semedo (7), Pique (8), Lenglet (6), Alba (7); Rakitic (7), Busquets (8*), Vidal (6); Messi (8), Suarez (7), Coutinho (6)
Substitutes: Arthur (6), Vermaelen (5), Roberto (N/A)
STAR MAN – Sergio Busquets made a crucial challenge in his own penalty area to deny Aleix Garcia Serrano a seemingly certain goal following a low cross into the box, as the Barcelona midfielder displayed his excellent reading of the game to intercept the danger. Busquets was calm and composed on the ball throughout, passing through midfield with good tempo.
WORST PLAYER – Philippe Coutinho’s lack of impact on the match was not for a lack of trying, but the Brazilian looked short on confidence and lacked efficiency in the final third. A tame effort from the attacker after being put through on goal in the first half epitomised Coutinho’s struggles in the match, as the former Liverpool star spurned a great chance to double his side’s lead.
Barcelona will look to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter final clash with Sevilla as they host the second leg on Wednesday.
Valverde’s side then return to La Liga action as they take on Valencia in a testing clash at the Camp Nou next Saturday.