Barcelona cruised to a 4-0 win at home to Athletic Club on Sunday night, securing impressive back-to-back wins following El Clasico disappointment.
Ousmane Dembele put Athletic to the sword from the off and headed Barcelona in front, before turning provider for Sergi Roberto to double the lead. Robert Lewandowski got in on the act for the hosts, who were in complete control and eased their way into half-time with the game essentially won already.
With the hard yards already ran, Xavi’s side dropped the tempo somewhat in the second half and played the game at a canter. Athletic failed to capitalise on that despite winning back some possession, with Barcelona constantly looking in control and Ferran Torres putting the seal on proceedings late on.
After a strong showing against Villarreal in the midweek, it was unusual to see Xavi set Barcelona up in a tweaked, 4-2-3-1 shape that made use of four midfielders. The change paid dividends, though, with his side dominating the ball from the first whistle and pulling ahead after just 12 minutes of play.
Dembele forced a fine save from Unai Simon with a curled effort from the edge of the box. Robert Lewandowski was there to scoop up the rebound, though, before placing a well-weighted cross onto Dembele’s head, who took his second chance with ease.
Conceding an early goal quickly turned into a nightmare opening 20 minutes for the visitors. Sergi Roberto doubled Barcelona’s lead shortly after going ahead, playing a smart passing exchange with Dembele before bursting into the box and finding the bottom corner. Moments later, Ander Herrera limped off injured, leaving an already shell-shocked Athletic completely helpless.
And before long, they were 3-0 down. Lewandowski turned Oscar de Marcos inside out in the penalty area, before rifling past Simon. La Blaugrana were in complete control, with Ernesto Valverde’s side still seemingly on the team bus and showing no signs of coming off it anytime soon.
Unfortunately for Barcelona, a flawless first half was marred by Gavi being forced off injured following a clash with Dani Garcia. That substitution saw them take their foot off the gas somewhat, but Athletic were unable to find a way back into the game before half-time.
Having already done the heavy lifting early on, Barcelona enjoyed themselves after the break.
Passes were sprayed around effortlessly and they continued to cut through Athletic, with Pedri hitting the post and coming agonisingly close to making it 4-0 following a brilliant cross from Roberto.
Ansu Fati’s presence off the substitutes bench was almost immediately felt. Picking up the ball following a confident run forward from Frenkie de Jong, the 19-year-old stood up his marker and bent the ball inches over the bar.
Just as Athletic came close to a consolation through a well delivered free-kick and a brief defensive lapse from Barcelona, the hosts broke forward ruthlessly and added another. Dembele burst through to pick out Torres, who swivelled into space and coolly tucked the ball beneath the goalkeeper.
But just as Gavi’s injury soured Barcelona’s first half, an injury to Roberto did the same in the closing stages. An awkward landing for the Spaniard saw him leave the field clutching his shoulder in serious discomfort, forcing the hosts to see out proceedings with ten players.
Still though, confidence has been rebuilt, following the damage done in losses to Inter and Real Madrid. Barcelona will need much more than confidence, though, when they welcome Bayern Munich to the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
GK: Marc-Andre Ter Stegen – 5/10 – Having done virtually nothing all night, the German nearly gave away a clean sheet at the death when he was too casual in possession. Not great.
RB: Sergi Roberto – 9/10 – Bombed forward and helped to carve through Athletic’s defence with his underlapping runs. Took his goal brilliantly.
CB: Jules Kounde – 6/10 – Showed up, kept things watertight in defence, barely broke a sweat and was done after an hour. Solid evening’s work.
CB: Eric Garcia – 6/10 – Garcia didn’t have his hands full at any point in particular, but a solid performance and a clean sheet is the ideal platform to build some confidence.
LB: Alejandro Balde – 7/10 – Made a solid account of himself on being given the nod over the experienced Jordi Alba. Grew in confidence as the game went on.
CM: Sergio Busquets – 6/10 – With very little to do in terms of being defensively stretched, the veteran midfielder was able to enjoy a tidy return to the XI.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 6/10 – Ticked possession over nicely and made a fine account of himself in what was his second consecutive start.
RW: Ousmane Dembele – 9/10 – On it from the off. Direct, sharp touches, positionally aware and selfless. Superb.
AM: Gavi – N/A – Went off injured after half an hour.
LW: Pedri – 7/10 – Playing out wide and further forward, Pedri sometimes got lost in not being able to make his runs from deeper. Still picked u some brilliant positions in the left half space, though, which proved problematic.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – 8/10 – Incredible movement to torment Athletic’s flat-footed defence. Creates opportunities for his teammates while also sniffing out – and taking – chances for himself.
SUB: Franck Kessie (33′ for Gavi) – 7/10 – A dominant performance despite being thrust into action rather unexpectedly. Kept Barcelona in control and showed glimpses of why he is so highly regarded by many.
SUB: Ansu Fati (63′ for Lewandowski) – 6/10 – Lacking sharpness, but not effort. Unfortunate not to score.
SUB: Marcos Alonso (63′ for Kounde) – 5/10 – Still looks somewhat uncomfortable at centre-back.
SUB: Ferran Torres (63′ for Pedri) – 7/10 – Should’ve had a brace, but made amends for an earlier wasted chance by tucking away his second.
SUB: Pablo Torre (77′ for Dembele) – N/A
Manager: Xavi – 8/10 – Rotated his side well and still managed to come away with a brilliant performance and result. Has recovered from a difficult week tremendously. Just a shame he got himself booked.