Barcelona’s victory over Elche extended the team’s La Liga unbeaten run to 11 games under Xavi and saw the Catalan giants take third place in the table.
Atletico Madrid’s win over Real Betis later in the day saw Xavi’s side stay there as well, level on points with the defending champions but one game less.
A top-four finish seemed unlikely a few months ago, but it is now in Barca’s hands, and second-placed Sevilla could also be looking over their shoulders.
Julen Lopetegui’s side are still seven points clear of Barca but have played one game more, and the two sides will meet in less than a month in La Liga at Camp Nou.
Barca had to come from behind to take the three points after Elche pounced on an error from Pedri to open the scoring through Fidel Chaves just before half-time.
The hosts hadn’t lost at home under Francisco before the game and caused problems for Barcelona, particularly on the right side where Dani Alves was targeted.
The 38-year-old Brazilian did well going forward (creating two chances, completing 91% of his passes) but struggled to keep up at times when Elche attacked with pace.
Xavi eventually brought on Sergino Dest for the last few minutes, but you got the feeling the in-form American probably should have arrived a bit sooner.
Dest will be there from the start against Galatasaray on Thursday in the Europa League and will have another chance to claim their position for more minutes.
Alves seemed to have cemented his place in the starting XI but Dest’s improvement means there is now real competition for the right-back position which can only be a good thing.
Another player enjoying life under Xavi is Ronald Araujo. The centre-back is clearly improving on the ball and is now looking to advance from behind.
Araujo’s ability as a defender has never been in doubt, but if there has ever been a weakness in his game, it’s his inability or unwillingness to get the ball out of the defence.
It seems like something Xavi has been working on and he spoke about the Uruguayan after the game, offering genuine praise.
“Maybe Araujo is the player who has improved the most since I took over, especially with the ball because he takes risks. He drives with the ball. Today he was the free man,” he said. was the forward midfielder. He has changed his way of playing, that is what we demand, and he is gaining weight within the team. Without the ball he is one of the best in the world, with the ball he had to improve. It is fundamental for him. and the team.
Meanwhile, rumors about Araujo’s future continue to swirl. The defender is said to be in contract extension talks and hope Barca can close the deal soon.
New signing Ferran Torres was left on the bench against Elche but came on at half-time for Gavi, who had endured an unusually ineffective first half playing down the left of attack, and helped change the Game.
Ferran’s equalizer wasn’t the best goal he had ever scored, but it was hugely important and helped set Barca up for victory. It was also Barcelona’s first La Liga goal, aged 22 years old.
6 – Ferrán Torres had six shots in 45 minutes against Elche today, more than any game for him in the European League Top 5, being his second negative difference between goals scored (1) and goals expected ( 1.9) in his career (-0.9). Persistence#ElcheBarca #FCB ❤ pic.twitter.com/MreKxuSz3t
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 6, 2022
There should have been a few more too, but Ferran was denied by a combination of poor finishing and a fine save from Elche keeper Edgar Badia Torres can be frustrating in front of goal but it’s certainly not luck that he puts himself in the right positions and have as many chances.
Barca had to work hard for their win over Elche, and indeed you got the feeling it was the kind of game they would have lost a few months ago, but they were also indebted to their substitutes for the Victoire.
Last weekend, Ousmane Dembele, Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay all came off the bench to secure the win against Athletic and this time around it was a similar story as the goals came from the substitutes.
The Catalans had struggled to face Francisco’s side but had the luxury of bringing in Ferran, Nico Gonzalez, Adama Traore, Memphis and Dest in the second half.
We all know January signings have boosted Barcelona but Xavi is truly spoiled for choice, especially in attack. Martin Braithwaite didn’t even make the squad, while in-form Luuk de Jong didn’t get a single minute. .
Memphis did and offered another reminder that he can still come in handy. The Dutchman scored on his return from injury last time out and did it again here. His game-winning penalty for Barca was skillfully sent for his 10th of the season.
The new arrivals in the winter transfer window have already sparked speculation that Memphis will leave at the end of the season. Still, the Dutchman remains Barca’s top scorer this season and, at the very least, proves a decent option to have on the bench.