There will be tougher tests to come for FC Barcelona in this year’s Champions League, but their demolition of Royal Antwerp made an early statement of intent, especially when you consider their early exit from last year’s competition.
With the greatest respect to Royal Antwerp, it’s sometimes hard to take lessons from a game that you dominated as much as FC Barcelona did tonight, but here are three takeaways.
The budding relationship between Joao Felix and Robert Lewandowski
If Barcelona are to go far in this year’s competition, they’ll need Robert Lewandowski firing on all cylinders. So far this season, Lewandowski has looked a bit off the pace despite being in the goals, but that all changed with the introduction of Joao Felix.
The Athletico Madrid man on loan at Barca this year has formed a strong connection with the Polish striker. It was his dummy at the weekend that led to Lewandowski’s goal and Felix picked out Lewandowski at the back post for another goal tonight.
Both players seem to be on the same page when it comes to movement and Xavi’s system is predicated on smart movement. If Felix can continue to score and create opportunities for Lewandowski, he’ll be worth every single penny…and will also become a priority signing for next summer.
Barcelona’s 4-3-3 unlocks the attacking potential of the team
This goes hand-in-hand with the first takeaway. Joao Felix’s introduction into the starting lineup has coincided with a more traditional 4-3-3 formation.
Lewandowski had spoken about the need to get more attacking players on the field and that’s exactly what has happened with Felix and Raphinha being the chosen ones tonight. The two players combined well for Felix’s second goal and Barcelona’s 5th.
When they want to change things up, they can introduce Ferran Torres or Lamine Yamal, both players brimming with confidence right now. Barcelona tends to dominate possession in 90% of the matches they play, against teams like Antwerp there’s no need to play two defensive-minded midfielders, Xavi didn’t do that last night and that to me is the right choice.
Barcelona may have the best fullback combination in European football
If you watched Barcelona last year and the start of this season, you’d have seen a lopsided situation. Alejandro Balde has quickly established himself as one of the premier left-backs in football, but the right-back situation was a revolving door of mediocrity. Good players playing out of position and being exposed.
Enter Joao Cancelo, who’s got off to a fine start in his Barca career. Not only did he score at the weekend, but he almost scored last night. Defensively he’s been extremely reliable, with his pace and tackling being a welcome addition to the team.
If there is a better combination in Europe right now, I don’t think there will be by the end of the season. That Cancelo signing was absolutely key, a great piece of business from Joan Laporta and the management team.