Barça travelled north to face their Catalan rivals Girona at the Montilivi Stadium. After their disappointing loss to Sevilla in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey, they were hoping to continue their impressive run in La Liga.
Girona’s recent form has dipped as their last win was recorded 2 months ago. However, they would be buoyed by the return of Stuani after missing the last game through suspension. The Uruguayan sits third in the league goal-scoring charts and would be a handful for the Barça defence.
Barça has 4 wins and a draw in their last 5 fixtures against Girona. The 2-2 draw coming earlier in the season at Camp Nou.
Formation and Lineups
Barça returned to their usual lineup with Messi, Suárez and Coutinho in the place of injured Dembélé. The midfield consisted of Rakitic, Busquets and Vidal while Semedo started at right-back instead of Roberto.
Christian Stuani started at upfront for Girona in a 3-4-2-1 formation.
Girona started aggressively enjoying a lot of possession in the opening minutes with the Barça defence put under early pressure. Barça wasn’t able to take control of the proceedings though they won a number of free kicks conceded by the high pressing Girona. Barça and Girona almost completed the same number of passes in the opening 6 minutes.
The opening goal for Barça came in the 9th minute almost against the run of play. Messi started the move finding Rakitic on the left flank whose cross evaded the waiting Vidal and Suárez. But after a scramble in the box, the ball eventually found the feet of Semedo, who took a clean shot with his weaker left foot finding the bottom right corner making it 1-0.
Barça should have made it 2-0 in the 15th minute when Messi put Coutinho through with a brilliant pass, but Coutinho failed to beat the oncoming Bounou.
Girona continued to put the Barça defence under pressure but couldn’t create clear-cut chances. Barça slowly began to take control as Messi fired a curler from outside the box with the effort just wide of the top left corner. Barca began to take control of the game as Girona’s threat reduced with Messi looking increasingly influential.
The Messi-Alba combination almost doubled Barça’s lead as Messi slipped in a super pass behind the defence to find Alba, but his cutback was deflected by the Girona defence. Messi continued to put the Girona defence under pressure as he won a free-kick just outside the box earning Espinosa a yellow card, but the resulting free-kick was hit straight into the wall.
The best chance of the first-half for Girona fell to Portu in the 32nd minute. The cross from the right found him unmarked but he could not make clear contact with his header as the ball drifts wide. A mix-up at the back for Barça a few minutes later almost cost them a goal, but the ball was deflected agonizingly wide off the post.
Girona continued to create chances and almost equalized in the 42ndminute. Stuani was sent clear, but his shot was brilliantly saved by Ter Stegen. The rebound fell to Pons who beat Ter Stegen, but Piqué made a goal-line clearance and kept Barça’s lead intact.
Barça went into the break with a 1-0 lead, but Girona clearly had their chances to equalize.
Messi won a free-kick in the opening minute but couldn’t make much of it as the free-kick sailed over the post comfortably. Girona continued to press high trying to find the equalizer. Stuani had another chance in the 50th minute as he skipped past Lenglet, but Ter Stegen stood his ground and made a fine save.
Just as Girona was trying to get a foothold in the match, Espinosa stamps on Suárez’s heels earning himself a second yellow thereby getting the marching orders. Though Girona was reduced to 10 men, they continued to press high but couldn’t get that elusive goal. Barça responded by bringing on Arthur in place of Vidal to bring more control in the midfield.
Barça eventually doubled their lead in the 68th minute with the unsurprising combination of Messi and Alba. However, it was Suárez who started the move who controlled the ball brilliantly in the middle of the pitch and set Alba free on the left with a wonderful ball. Alba then teed up Messi who under pressure, lifted a delicate chip over Bounou.
Barça started to find more space and they had a few glorious chances to add more goals to their tally with Messi Suárez and Coutinho all missing the chances. It started with Suárez in the 75th minute when Rakitic played a brilliant pass into his path, but he took the shot early and curled it over the top with just the goalkeeper to beat. A minute later it was Messi’s turn to miss. Suárez held the ball in the box and released Messi who hit his first-time shot straight to Bounou.
The final chance of the game fell to Coutinho who had a great chance to make amends for his average game. A brilliant through ball released Coutinho clear with only goalkeeper to beat, he rounded the goalkeeper but was forced wide and could only muster a tame shot which was easily saved by Bounou.
The 2-0 win was a hard-fought win and Barça hold on to their 5-point lead at the top.
- Coutinho’s continued Struggles
It seems there is no end for Coutinho’s struggles as he had another night to forget in a Barca shirt. He missed a couple of golden opportunities, one in the initial minutes of the first half and the other in the dying minutes of the game. He gave away the ball multiple times and misplaced quite a few passes too. His work ethic and intensity were poor. Time seems to be running out for him.
- Arthur’s Cameo
It was a magnificent 30-minute cameo from Arthur. It was noticeable how Barça regained the control that they were missing till that point of time. He attempted 35 passes with a completion rate of 94%. He completed 4/4 long balls, won 4 out of his 5 duels and suffered 4 fouls. More than the stats, there is a sense of safety when he’s in possession. There are no extravagant passes for the camera, but simple give and go’s which brings order to the midfield.
- Semedo should be the first choice Right-back
Semedo had a fantastic game both offensively and defensively. He scored the opening goal with a fine finish and was constantly up and down the right flank. He made up for Coutinho’s mistakes a few times by tracking back and winning the ball. He should be the first choice right-back instead of Sergi Roberto.
Ter Stegen- 7/10
- He made a couple of fine saves to keep Girona at bay.
Piqué – 8/10
- He made a crucial goal-line clearance and was solid at the back.
- It was clearly not one of his best performances in a Barça shirt. Picked up a needless yellow card too.
- Probably the best player on the pitch alongside Messi. He scored the opening goal and was brilliant defensively.
- The usual Alba performance but with only a single assist!
- A decent performance but Barça lacked control in his presence.
Rakitic – 7/10
- One of the better Rakitic performance. He looked more involved in the attack and played some key passes.
- After a slight dip in form, Busquets seems to be coming back to top form.
- Though his finishing was not up to the mark, he created the second goal and was full of intensity.
Messi – 8/10
- Looked annoyed all through the match but was always a danger near the Girona box. Got his well-deserved goal in the second half.
Coutinho – 4/10
- Things don’t seem to be improving for Coutinho. Yet another poor performance from the Brazilian.
- Subbed on because of the Lenglet’s yellow card. Didn’t have much to do in the game.
- Brilliant cameo from the Brazilian. The missing control in the midfield was back when he entered the pitch.
- Was brought on to give Busquets a break. He should contribute more in the Copa game.