Barcelona continued their fine run of form with another 1-0 win, this time against Villarreal. A first half goal from Pedri proved to be enough as the Catalan side pulled 11 points ahead of Real Madrid in the league table.
With that being said, here are five talking points coming out of the match.
Pedri seemingly only scores winners
As mentioned, the lone goal of the game was scored by Pedri. It was his sixth goal of the season, surpassing his tally from the last two seasons combined.
Scoring more is something Xavi Hernandez has asked of him and it’s something the young midfielder has taken to heart. He’s not only scoring more this season but, more often than not, his goals are giving Barcelona the three points.
His last three goals, including the one against Villarreal, have all ended with a 1-0 win for Barcelona. His last two came against Getafe and Girona, respectively. In addition, his goal against Osasuna back in November was an equalizer and the one in October against Celta Vigo also proved to be a game winner.
In essence, while he may not get on the score sheet as often, when he does, it’s an important goal that more often than not results in a win.
Franck Kessie’s best display since joining Barcelona
With Sergio Busquets picking up an injury against Sevilla and set to miss a couple of weeks, it was going to fall on Franck Kessie to pick up the slack. It was going to be a good opportunity for the former AC Milan midfielder to stake his claim and fight for his future at the club.
Against Villarreal, he delivered.
Kessie was slotted into the starting lineup and did not look out of place. He seemed to better understand what was asked of him and was more assured of himself. Early on, in his cameos, he looked more worried about not putting a foot wrong that he ended up doing just that.
He used his physicality to his advantage and at times was able to hold on to the ball whereas another Barcelona midfielder may have been bullied off it. He was also better able to link up with the rest of his teammates even if it didn’t necessarily result in a goal. With the upcoming matches against Manchester United, he’s going to be an important player for Xavi and he’s started things off on a high note.
Barcelona once again show their defensive solidity
When the final whistle blew, the camera panned to players celebrating. What was significant was the players celebrating was the Barcelona backline.
It was another monstrous display from a defense that has only given up seven goals in LaLiga. Three of those seven came in one match against Real Madrid and the other was an own goal by Jules Kounde in a win over Real Betis.
The defensive improvement should not be overlooked. The arrivals of Kounde and Andreas Christensen has been immense. As has the inclusion of Alejandro Balde who has injected new life to the left-back position. Marc-Andre ter Stegen also looks to be back to his best self and has answered the call when asked.
Perhaps no one better encapsulates the new look defense than Ronald Araújo. The Uruguayan was immense against Villarreal and has rightfully been lauded even if his tackles and last ditch efforts may raise questions to how Barcelona was playing in the second half.
“Araújo is a beast; he’s a safety net at the back and we’re very happy to have him with us,” Balde said.
Again, while Araújo can be singled out, he has opted to credit the entire team.
“It’s always difficult against an opponent like this,” Araújo said. “We are working very well in defense, which was something we needed to correct from last season. I’m happy with the numbers, for helping Marc (ter Stegen). The midfielders and forwards are also closing down the spaces.”
Ansu Fati’s worrying situation continues
Xavi’s substitutes came late in the match. His first substitution came in the 81st minute and it was for Raphinha. What was surprising was the player that replaced the Brazilian was not Ansu Fati, rather Ferran Torres.
Fati has been unable to cement his place in the starting lineup and his situation regarding his playing time has led to speculation about his future. Rumors began swirling last week that his agent, Jorge Mendes, had advised him to look for a move away if he didn’t get more playing time.
Prior to the game, Xavi came out and said Fati is not for sale and considers him an important player for the present and the future.
“I don’t understand why this is being talked about now in our circles,” Xavi said. “There is no market now, so Ansu is not for sale. He is a very important player for us — for now and for the future.”
Though his actions in the game against Villareal certainly match his words as Fati was left on the bench.
For his part, Fati apparently is not considering a move and wants to succeed at Barcelona.
With Ousmane Dembéle out, Raphinha has been the preferred choice to partner Lewandowski. It also hasn’t made things easier with the change in formation where Barcelona use a fourth midfielder and sees Gavi float on the left when attacking.
Fati’s situation is one to look out for given the club’s financial situation. It would not be surprising if they decide to move him on if someone comes in with an offer they can’t refuse.
Barcelona now hold a commanding lead in LaLiga
The win over Villarreal saw the Catalans go 11 points in front of Real Madrid but with Los Blancos having a game in hand. That game is against bottom of the league Elche which means their lead should fall to eight barring the unlikely.
Regardless, whether it’s eight or 11 points, Xavi is not going to let Barcelona rest on their laurels.
“It is not an insurmountable distance, there are 17 games left,” Xavi said. “I’m happy, we have a very good run of results, [it’s] extraordinary. We are solid, serious, hardworking. These games are costly and it is one more example that the team is solid.”
He knows things can change very quickly and their inability to finish off games could come back to haunt them.
What the widening gap does is allows them a bigger margin for error. They can afford to drop points here and there and still remain in first place. Though they will undoubtedly look to win every game remaining.
At the same time, it also puts pressure on Real Madrid who know they have no room for error. They need to win every game here on out and hope other teams do them a favor and take points off Barcelona.
As Xavi said, there are 17 games left in the league season. But they’ve opened up a nice cushion between themselves and not only Real Madrid, but the rest of the league as well.