A more than resounding 4-0 victory for Barcelona against the ever so tricky Athletic Bilbao sees them retain their position in 2nd, keeping their rigorous chase of leaders Real Madrid alive.
In a game that saw Barcelona rather casually dominate the proceedings for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes, the Catalans were consistently in control of a majority of key stats. Scoring a total of 4 goals from a generated XG of 1.46, whereas the opposition managed to generate a lesser XG of 0.45.
The latter only managed 5 total shots during the course of the game with 3 being on target, while La Blaugrana themselves attempted 10 shots in total from which 7 were on target. Moreover, Barcelona also dominated possession as they tend to do, managing 60% of it to themselves.
Rather an unorthodox approach, Xavi opted to deploy Pedri as the left winger in tonight’s fixture against Athletic Bilbao. At first, the selection raised a few eyebrows, but as the game progressed it became evident that it served a bigger purpose. Xavi attempted to lure Pedri in as part of the midfield while Barca were in possession, allowing them to dismantle the backline of Bilbao through positional changes repetitively, as well as giving themselves more outlets to rotate possession within when retaining it.
Despite the fact that the scoreline and most of the statistics provide ample evidence that Barcelona were dominant throughout the game, it doesn’t reflect just how effective that domination of possession, in particular, was in specific periods of the game.
After scoring the third goal, Barcelona became rather sluggish and even lethargic to most who watched the game unfold. The pitch side commentators also noted that Xavi was urging his players on to show more intensity and felt they’d become complacent, which showcases a long-running issue with this team, that has been plaguing the side from even before Xavi and is complacency that cannot be allowed to persist in a team that’s aiming to fight for various titles in the coming seasons.
On a more positive note, certain key players also showcased what exactly they can bring at
their best. In particular, Ousmane Dembele, who was on a riot during this game. Exploiting his change of pace, double-footedness, and unique playmaking style to full effect, the Frenchman was able to show his creativity at its very peak, coming out of the game with 3 assists as well as a goal he scored from a header, a rather unusual occurrence for him.
Moreover, there is yet another key detail that made this game’s proceedings even more
interesting and worth noticing. It was Ernesto Valverde’s return to Camp Nou as a manager for the first time since January 2020 and received applause from the fans upon his return.
Yet despite his experience and merit, he was tactically outplayed by Xavi’s system. Athletic Bilbao seemed soulless for much of the game, having lost spirit pretty early on in the first half following Barcelona’s suffocating pressure and goal-scoring riot.
This puts the Basque club in a very awkward position, having won just one out of their last five league games. On the contrary, this marks Barcelona’s second straight assuring victory following the loss in El Clasico, showing just how well the team took to criticism and is keen on bouncing back rather than sulking over a hard loss. Barcelona now sit firmly in 2nd place right behind their El Clasico archrivals, as the Catalans have now accumulated 28 out of a total possible of 33 points, just 3 behind Real Madrid’s 31.
This means that even a singular mess-up in either team’s matches going forward could result in the other grasping onto something much more vital; breathing room. For La Blaugrana that would mean returning back to the top of the table, and for Los Blancos, it would mean a bigger gap between them and the Catalans.