Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 win at home to the ten men of Elche on Saturday afternoon, strolling to La Liga’s summit against the team propping up the table.
The Catalans bounced back from their Champions League frustrations against Bayern Munich with an easy victory against opponents that conspired to make the afternoon as straightforward as possible for their hosts.
Elche arrived at Camp Nou – a ground at which they have never won – with one La Liga point and a game plan. Sitting in a passive low block, the visitors laboured over each restart almost from kick-off, willing the seconds to spill away.
However, the red card captain Gonzalo Verdu received in the 14th minute for rugby-tackling Robert Lewandowski to the turf was not part of Elche’s pre-match script.
Down to ten within a quarter of an hour, Elche’s timid 5-3-1 didn’t even close the space between the lines. Pedri could receive the ball on the edge of the box and calmly slide it to Alejandro Balde on the left at his leisure. The academy product fired a pass across the area which Memphis Depay missed but Lewandowski bundled in after 33 minutes.
Depay was unquestionably the target of Balde’s pass barely five minutes later. Accepting the ball in the box with his back to goal and John Nwankwo breathing down his neck, Depay twisted away from the defender trying to ascertain his cologne, blasting a shot as vicious as his spin into the roof of the net.
On the cusp of half-time, Elche’s Francisco had joined his skipper in the changing rooms. Pedri had a third for Barcelona ruled out for offside but the visiting manager was punished for his apoplectic reaction before VAR intervened.
The first two scorers combined as Barcelona resumed their scoring within three minutes of the restart. Depay made a nuisance of himself in the six-yard box, forcing the ball loose for Lewandowski to stride onto, sweeping in his second and Barcelona’s third.
With such a healthy advantage and scant sign of Elche offering so much as a limp prod towards goal – the visitors didn’t attempt a single shot until the 90th minute – Barcelona slowed the contest to a crawl, cranking up the tempo when the mood struck them.
Lewandowski was uncharacteristically wasteful on his return to Bayern Munich in midweek but brushed aside any cobwebs as he took his tally to 11 in eight outings – even if he did squander multiple opportunities to nab his first La Liga hat-trick on Saturday.
With Pedri pulling the strings and Raphinha injecting more urgency down the right, Elche were fortunate to emerge having been breached just three times.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6/10 – Given so little to do in the first half, it was mildly surprising he bothered trotting out after the break. He needn’t have.
RB: Jules Kounde – 6/10 – Intermittently burst forward to offer himself as a decoy, creating space for Ousmane Dembele more than anything else.
CB: Ronald Araujo – 7/10 – Found the match so effortless that he had the awareness to hop over the Barcelona badge on the side of the pitch after another proactive intervention – eliciting a squall of ‘Uruguayo’ chants in appreciation of his respect.
CB: Eric Garcia – 6/10 – Quick to snuff out Elche’s sporadic attempts to counterattack while the moves were in their infancy.
LB: Alejandro Balde – 8/10 – The spare man as he held the width on the left, Balde delivered the second and third La Liga assists of his career.
CM: Franck Kessie – 5/10 – Eager to burst into the opposition box but often clumsy when he arrived. His performance was considered disappointing enough to see him substituted at half-time.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 6/10 – Almost every Barcelona attack went through the Dutchman, collecting the ball off his centre-backs and probing from there.
CM: Pedri – 8/10 – Nonchalantly stroking the ball around the pitch, Pedri seemed to know exactly where and when to play the pass to find a teammate in space.
RW: Ousmane Dembele – 7/10 – Rapidly established he could outrun and outwit Elche’s left-back Carlos Clerc. It was his cross that forced the third goal.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – 8/10 – Keen to get involved in the buildup without impinging on his ever-presence in the six-yard box when the ball made its way into the danger area.
LW: Memphis Depay – 8/10 – Used his strength expertly, thriving against the touch-tight approach Elche employed to remind Xavi of his threat (at least against the division’s bottom side).
SUB: Gavi (46′ for Kessie) – 6/10 – Scampered around the pitch with his usual, infectious enthusiasm and provided more composure at the sharp end of the pitch than Kessie.
SUB: Ansu Fati (59′ for Depay) – 5/10
SUB: Hector Bellerin (60′ for Garcia) – 5/10
SUB: Raphinha (60′ for Dembele) – 6/10 – His arrival in place of Dembele didn’t stop Barcelona funnelling the majority of their attacks down the right.
SUB: Ferran Torres (72′ for Lewandowski) – N/A
Manager: Xavi Hernandez – 6/10 – Constantly ushering over his players to deliver instructions during each stoppage. However, the hapless visitors did most of his work for him.