Barcelona had to overcome conceding a goal inside 17 seconds to muscle their way past Alaves in La Liga on Sunday as Robert Lewandowski scored twice to end his recent goal drought.
Samuel ‘Samu’ Omorodion finished off a flowing Alaves move inside the first minute as Barca struggled for rhythm in the first half before Lewandowski equalised with a stunning header in the 53rd minute.
The former Bayern Munich striker bagged the winner from the penalty spot to earn Barca the win and take them within four points of current league leaders Girona.
How the game unfolded
Any Barca punters at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys who arrived a minute after kick-off would have been left deflated, sucker-punched and anxious when their glances towards the scoreboard clocked the visitors’ early lead.
With only 17 seconds on referee Mateo Busquets Ferrer’s watch, Alaves headed away Barca’s long ball forward before Jon Guridi poached possession away from Ilkay Gundogan. He strode forward and fed Javi Lopez, whose low cross was met with a smart finish from 19-year-old Samu.
Barca’s recent losses to Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk had the mood approaching crisis point in Catalonia pre kick-off and the hosts’ efforts in attack during the first half did little to quell that negative atmosphere.
Lewandowski looked set to score with a half-volley from Gundogan’s clipped pass but Antonio Sivera covered well to deny the Pole a much-desired goal.
It was Alaves who looked more threatening, with Samu getting a hat-trick of decent opportunities. The last involved chasing down Jules Kounde and forcing himself through on goal, but the striker’s shot cleared the crossbar.
Whistles could be heard at half-time with Barca’s defence struggling to figure out how to deal with the unique threat posed by Samu and their attackers failing to conjure anything up of substance.
Striker Lewandowski’s recent troubles in front of goal have been well documented but the Poland international ensured his goalless run at club level wouldn’t reach seven games as he grabbed the equaliser early in the second half.
Kounde, who switched positions with Araujo during a difficult first half, whipped a ball in and Lewandowski sprang to reach it, connecting perfectly with a header that looped into the far corner beyond the sprawling Sivera.
With points needed after wins for Real Madrid and Girona on Saturday, Barca upped the ante.
Yamine Lamal get the better of two defenders as he swerved into the penalty area and called Sivera into action with a fierce strike. Minutes later, Xavi’s side were presented the chance to go ahead from the penalty spot.
Substitute Ferran Torres latched onto the loose ball in the Alaves area and a clumsy challenge from Abdelkabir Abqar gave away a blatant penalty. Having struggled to have as much as a shot on target in recent weeks, Lewandowski stuttered and converted to go up to seven La Liga strikes as he looks to defend his Pichichi Trophy.
With the lead restored approaching the last ten minutes and added time, Barca looked to slow the tempo completely and see out the win, which they did successfully.
The win means Barca are now four points behind La Liga leaders Girona and two off Clasico rivals Real Madrid. They resume domestic duties after the November international break with a trip to Rayo Vallecano.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6/10 – Couldn’t keep out the opener and was lucky not to be tested at all by Samu’s chances.
RB: Ronald Araujo – 7/10 – Started out wide but soon came into central defence to quieten Samu. Did that job effectively as Barca managed the big striker out of the game.
CB: Jules Kounde – 6/10 – Had an absolute mare trying to deal with Samu, being out-fought over possession. Switch to right-back was much-needed and he delivered the assist for Lewandowski’s header.
CB: Inigo Martinez – 7/10 – Showed a wonderful array of passing range and retained possession well for Barca.
LB: Joao Cancelo – 6/10 – Couldn’t provide much quality with his delivery out wide but still looked to play forward.
CM: Fermin Lopez – 5/10 – Got lost in a tough midfield battle, with the wily Guridi giving him difficulty on occasion.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 7/10 – Caught cold in the first minute as Alaves nicked possession and scored after 17 seconds. Battled back with a load of recoveries and three chances created.
CM: Pedri – 7/10 – Keen to pass forward and was never far away when loose possession needed to be claimed.
RW: Lamine Yamal – 6/10 – Pretty quiet as Barca struggled in attack but came alive in moments in the second half.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – 8/10 – Cut a frustrated figure at points but brought his dry run to an end with a brilliant header and wrapped up the points from the penalty spot.
LW: Joao Felix – 7/10 – A brighter spark during a gloomy first half for Barca, charging around trying to make things happen.
SUB: Raphinha (63′ for Lopez) – 6/10 – Looked to make an impact and got involved in attacking build-up.
SUB: Ferran Torres (70′ for Felix) – 7/10 – Won the penalty with some clever forward play.
SUB: Alejandro Balde (70′ for Kounde) – 6/10 – Came on and popped the ball around while Barca saw out the win.
SUB: Oriol Romeu (81′ for Pedri) – N/A
Subs not used: Christensen, Pena, Casado, Astralaga, Alonso.
Xavi – 6/10 – It was another sloppy showing all in all from Barcelona. They were put off their game by an energetic and pragmatic Alaves side and Xavi can only thank a clinical display from Lewandowski for the win.