Barcelona needed a late winner from Robert Lewandowski to pull out a win against Valencia.
The Catalan side were unable to convert their handful of chances, including one where a Pedri pass only needed Ferran Torres to tap it in but who whiffed in his attempt.
Aside from that, Barcelona’s only other golden opportunity was a header from Lewandowski whose shot hit the post.
Barcelona needed the win coming off elimination from the Champions League. It appeared they would be forced to settle for the draw which would have been a blow to their La Liga aspirations and could have potentially fallen five points behind Real Madrid.
With that being said, here are three talking points from the match.
Lewandowski pulls Barcelona out of the fire
Once again it was demonstrated how important Lewandowski is for Xavi Hernandez. The Polish striker struggled to receive much service and, before the goal, the closest he came to scoring was his header that hit the post.
But he came up big to score the winner and save his team’s blushes. It was a typical Lewandowski goal but one that perhaps that no Barcelona forward could have pulled off. From Raphinha’s cross, he leapt in the air with an outstretched leg to flick the ball past the keeper.
It was only Barça’s second shot on target — the same amount as Valencia — but they made it count.
It’s fair to say early on, Lewandowski has been the most important player for Xavi. Without him, their season in La Liga could be going as poorly as their season in Europe.
Alejandro Balde continues to earn his place in the team
Balde earned the starting spot at left-back following the first game of the season against Rayo Vallecano. He now seems to have earned the starting spot at right-back with the injury to Sergi Roberto.
The 19-year-old started over Hector Bellerin against Valencia and put in another good performance. He wasn’t overwhelmed defensively and kept the opposing wingers at bay. His ability to play on either flank is certainly a massive boost in the eyes of Xavi which should translate to more playing time.
He’s been one of the bright spots on a defense that started out strong but have been exposed in large part due to the injuries to Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen.
Heading into the season, Jordi Alba seemed to have the left-back position covered. Then, when Marcos Alonso was signed, many questioned how many minutes Balde was going to see and whether or not going out on loan would be his best option.
He’s silenced some of the doubters and a contract extension is now on the cards. With Roberto’s injury and the lack of faith in Bellerin, Balde is going to see plenty of playing time before the World Cup break.
Barcelona have a problem on the wings
Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha both started out the season strong. Their ability to get past defenders and take them on was one of the reasons why they played ahead of Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres and why Lewandowski was on a tear.
However, following the international break, both have been inconsistent with the Brazilian coming off the bench in the last number of matches.
Torres and Fati have not fared better when given a start.
Fati was erratic against Valencia, including missing a one-on-one against the keeper. In the occasions where he would get the ball on the left, he’d try to dribble inside the box only to be snuffed out by the defense or have his attempt on goal blocked. Even worse, when he would get a shot off, they’d be well wide off the mark. It came as no surprise he and Dembele were taken off early in the second half.
Playing a more direct style worked for Xavi early on because his wide forwards were in good form. But with all four struggling, or being inconsistent, it’s been tough creating goal scoring opportunities.
It’s also brought into the forefront the lack of midfield in terms of having the likes of Pedri and Frenkie de Jong be driving factors going forward. Too often, the plan seems to get the ball out wide and hoping that a cross reaches Lewandowski to put it away.
With their next three games coming against Viktoria Plzen, Almeria and Osasuna, Xavi has an opportunity to tinker and try to find the right balance and for someone up front to stake their claim to starting spot.