Barcelona defeated Athletic Club 4-0, maintaining a three-point lead over the league-leading Real Madrid thanks to an outstanding performance by Ousmane Dembele.
After contributing to three goals and scoring one at Camp Nou, Dembele took over. Sergi Roberto, Ferran Torres, and Robert Lewandowski all contributed goals.
Ernesto Valverde, meanwhile, had a disappointing return to Barcelona, and despite the fact that his club is currently 6th in the standings, they have gone four games without a victory.
Barcelona’s goal-scoring form has returned, but it’s probably too late to preserve their Champions League season. They repeated the feat against Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on Sunday after scoring three goals in the first half of their victory over Villarreal on Thursday. After the break, they improved even further by adding a fourth.
Ansu Fati and Torres were among the players who were dropped as Xavi Hernandez made yet another adjustment to his starting lineup, choosing four midfielders and bringing Dembele back in. The outcome wasn’t disruptive; it was disastrous. Dembele, Roberto, and Lewandowski, who has now scored 17 goals this season, each contributed one of Barca’s three goals in the first 22 minutes. In the second half, Torres came off the bench to finish the scoring.
Just one week ago, after Barcelona lost to Real Madrid, Xavi bemoaned the “poor run” his team was on. In victories over Mallorca and Celta Vigo, they only managed one goal. Against Inter Milan, they earned one point out of a possible six, and they went on to lose the Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu. The situation is now improving. They are still just three points behind Madrid at the top of LaLiga and appear to be in good form heading into Wednesday’s match against Bayern Munich.
The bad news is that they are now dependent on others in the Champions League. Even if they defeat Bayern 10-0, Inter’s victory against Viktoria Plzen on the same day will prevent them from qualifying for the Europa League.
Dembele, who started the scoring and then assisted in the other three goals, received one of the greatest applauses of the evening. When he was replaced by youngster Pablo Torre, who was being introduced for his LaLiga debut, he received a standing ovation.
Dembele seemed to require performance of this caliber. He has consistently been seen as a key component of Xavi’s preferred assault alongside Lewandowski. Recent performances, meanwhile, had begun to raise some questions about that, or at the very least put some pressure on the French striker. Recently, even Xavi said that he still needs to get better at making decisions.
Against Athletic, it most definitely got better. He set up Roberto, Lewandowski, and Torres to finish the rout with his goal, his first-ever header while wearing Barca colors. He currently has four goals and seven assists in all competitions this season, and in this form, he may be unplayable.
Before being fired in 2019 with Barcelona leading the league, Ernesto Valverde coached Barcelona for two seasons and won LaLiga twice during that time. They haven’t achieved that success since. You could have understood his desire to leave a lasting impression on his first return to Camp Nou as a professional after being dismissed, but any such expectations were immediately dashed.
He had a smile on his face as he greeted Xavi Hernandez prior to the game, but it quickly faded as his team was destroyed. Athletic has lost all four of their games after a strong start to the season that saw them climb as high as third at one stage. Only two points were earned during a difficult stretch of games against Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Getafe, and Barcelona. Although there is no immediate cause for alarm and there is still a positive vibe surrounding Valverde’s return to San Mames as coach, a victory to calm any concerns soon would be appreciated in Bilbao.