Barcelona’s forward trio shines against Espanyol

8th December 2018, Cornella-El Prat, Cornella de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain; La Liga football, Espanyol versus Barcelona; Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembélé of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring his side's 2nd goal in the 26th minute (photo by Eric Alonso/Action Plus via Getty Images)
8th December 2018, Cornella-El Prat, Cornella de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain; La Liga football, Espanyol versus Barcelona; Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembélé of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring his side's 2nd goal in the 26th minute (photo by Eric Alonso/Action Plus via Getty Images) /
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Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele proved to be too hot to handle for Espanyol’s defence as Barcelona romped to a 4-0 win.

Barcelona put in one of their best displays of the season to sweep away their city rivals with a comfortable 4-0 win. Luis Suarez returned for this match after missing a number of matches due to injury, and he appeared to provide the final element that had been missing in previous games, although Lionel Messi’s top-class display also helped take the team to another level.

Philippe Coutinho’s poor recent form saw him dropped to the bench so that the Uruguayan could come in and based on this performance he will find it tough to take the place of any member of the front three. Ousmane Dembele continued his hot streak with another goal and an assist while Messi was his usual best and Suarez’s work-rate and intelligent movement made him a real threat.

Dembele has had problems previously forming a strong understanding with Jordi Alba down the left-wing, but in this match, they worked well in tandem with the French winger drifting inside when needed to accommodate the left-back’s attacking runs down the flank. Therefore, he could combine with Messi in central areas without occupying the same spaces, which is an issue for Coutinho, while also using Alba to get in behind the opposition defence.

Suarez’s runs in behind added an extra dimension to their play because they were able to be more direct so the defence couldn’t assume everything would be played in front of them which made utilising a high defensive line risky. His harrying of the opposition defence added energy in a key area and caused Barcelona’s counter-pressing to be more effective, so they were able to either regain possession in dangerous areas or disrupt their build-up play and force clearances.

Having Messi play centrally allows him to receive the ball in more dangerous areas, but he doesn’t offer a consistent threat in behind due to preferring to receive the ball to feet or even dropping deep. Therefore, Malcom becomes more important in that set-up due to the vertical runs he makes because without that the approach play and passing patterns can become predictable.

Arturo Vidal worked well with the front three due to his late runs and aerial ability that enabled Barca to have an extra attacking option in the box while he also provides a tireless work-rate and combative edge.

Coutinho came on for Dembele in the 68th minute, however, the match was settled by that point so Barcelona were naturally less threatening. He had a powerful shot parried away by Diego Lopez with Messi nearly completing his hat-trick with a header from the rebound, but aside from that he contributed little and lacked Dembele’s dynamism.

Lionel Messi inspires rampant Barcelona win over Espanyol. dark. Next

The last Champions League group stage match against Tottenham Hotspur is likely to see a lot of changes due to Barcelona already being guaranteed top place. Therefore, the next league match against Levante is likely to be the next time we see this set-up.