A 93rd-minute strike from Robert Lewandowski saw Barcelona return to winning ways with a 1-0 victory over Valencia on Saturday evening.
A dominant but unconvincing performance, in which both Eric Garcia and Jules Kounde went off injured, looked like being another one of those days before the talismanic Pole put on his cape and saved the day.
Both sides had their moments in the opening stages, with Lino causing plenty of problems on the Valencia left. Ansu Fati tried to chip Barcelona ahead 13 minutes in but the danger was well sniffed out by Giorgi Mamardashvili.
Fati had the ball in the back of the net ten minutes later but the offside flag was quickly raised and the goal correctly ruled out.
Xavi’s side stepped their game up as the half progressed, dominating in midfield and constantly recycling possession, and Lewandowski struck the post with a header two minutes before the interval with the best opportunity of the first half.
Five minutes after the restart, Valencia almost took the lead through Lino but VAR spotted a handball in the build-up and the goal was quickly ruled out.
That goal temporarily sparked Valencia into life, but Barcelona regained control of things and dominated the midfield battle without ever really threatening to score a goal. A string of scrappy injuries only added to the difficult viewing.
With five minutes to go, Ferran Torres had the chance to tap home what would have been a certain winner, but he missed the ball completely and watched the ball ricochet away off his standing leg.
As it looked like the game was petering out, up stepped Lewandowski to save the day with a stretching volley which trickled into the back of the net and send the points back to Camp Nou.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6/10 – Not a whole lot to do. Did his job.
RB: Alejandro Balde – 7/10 – An impressive performance in an unfamiliar position. Took a little while to get to grips with Lino but soon figured him out.
CB: Jules Kounde – 7/10 – Kounde was the one to step up when Barcelona found themselves under pressure. Seemed to always be in the right place at the right time before limping off with what looked like a hamstring injury.
CB: Eric Garcia – 5/10 – Limped off late in the first half after 42 unconvincing minutes.
LB: Jordi Alba – 5/10 – Looked uncomfortable when attacking. Hardly going to win his place back from Balde with this sort of performance.
DM: Sergio Busquets – 5/10 – Felt in the way at times. This Barcelona side don’t use his tempo-setting passing and prefer to play on the front foot, making him an awkward fit.
CM: Pedri – 6/10 – Got himself in some nice spaces but lacked a finishing touch. Visibly exhausted.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 6/10 – Similar to Pedri. Probably should have scored and had fans pulling their hair out when he passed up a few strikes from distance.
RW: Ousmane Dembele – 4/10 – Barely even noticed he was playing.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – 7/10 – Some nice link-up play and an excellent header to hit the post, and he finally managed to put it all together to win the game.
LW: Ansu Fati – 6/10 – Can’t fault his effort but must have slashed five or six chances wide. Sloppy in front of goal.
SUB: Marcos Alonso (42′ for Garcia) – 5/10 – Did his best to get sent off after being on the pitch for just a few seconds and never really inspired confidence.
SUB: Raphinha (56′ for Fati) – 5/10 – Offered absolutely nothing after coming on before hit match-winning assist.
SUB: Ferran Torres (56′ for Dembele) – 5/10 – Could see him getting into some nice spaces but his final product left so much to be desired.
SUB: Gavi (56′ for Busquets) – 6/10 – Provided some much-needed energy to the game but couldn’t make a telling impact.
SUB: Gerard Pique (74′ for Kounde) – 6/10 – Hadn’t even been warming up because he was so confident Xavi didn’t want to play him.
Manager: Xavi – 4/10 – Fair play for trying something different to Busquets but Xavi’s side again looked so one-dimensional with little to offer outside of this off-brand tiki-taka.