Barça receive last-placed Almería at home in a weekday La Liga clash. Should be a simple match for Xavi's squad, in theory. However, it ended up being a 5-goal thriller, with an unlikely hero: first captain Sergi Roberto. Let's see how every player performed and hopefully explain why Barça struggled yet again.
Peña - 7/10: Failure to communicate between him and Araújo for Almería's second goal, which is completely unacceptable. He somewhat made up for it later, though, with an absolutely crucial and difficult save off a header in the 87th to keep Barça in the lead. Strangely enough, apart from these few actions, he didn't have to do much else. An indictment of Almería's quality, not the strength of the Barcelona defense.
Balde - 7/10: I can't help but feel as if there's a lot of untapped potential in Alejandro Balde that requires just a bit of coaching to unlock. He often plays as if he's either unwilling to or unpermitted to try positive things. He did try a few times to dribble past players, but he still lacks the final ball to truly elevate him. He passes it backwards far too often when he should put a cross in the box (whether or not there'll be someone to finish it inside is another question). I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more daring play from him down that left side, even if what he tries doesn't work out. Especially if he's going to push so far up and leave Christensen to cover a ton of space in behind.
Christensen - 6/10: His first half was not a good one. Forced to defend in tons of space due to Balde pushing up (not Balde's fault, by the way) and the lack of midfield help, Almería got in behind him multiple times. The whole defense was sloppy, as well, committing tons of individual errors. The Dane himself misplaced a few balls throughout.
Araújo - 6/10: As with Christensen, quite a rough first half. Individually, not very good on the ball, losing it a few times in tricky positions. He played Almería on for their goal (although he tried to debate it). His form as of late has dipped a bit, as with Christensen's and Koundé's. I think this points to a lack of midfield help, quite honestly. Any back line will look bad when forced to defend in a lot of space and one-on-one situations over and over again. Almería's second goal was a complete lack of communication with Peña and completely unacceptable on both their parts. He almost had a header as well late on, but just missed. Overall, uncharacteristically sloppy from him.
Cancelo - 7/10: While Cancelo is a very offensive-minded player, there were a few times when he bothered Fermín with his positioning, getting too close to the midfielder in between the lines when he should've gone a bit wider and provided a different outlet. Barça's whole right side tried to bunch up in the middle throughout the first half, which led to some disjointedness, but nothing too significant. He provided some danger in the second half more than once, which was nice. A few errors, though.
Koundé - 7/10: Came on at the half for Christensen. Pushed up quite a bit down the left side, which seems to have been instructed by Xavi. This worked well for him, as he's a talented player on the ball, and he was able to spring a good few passes forward to Ferran and even Raphinha.
Gundogan - 7/10: Offensively, very good as usual. He oozes quality, as people like to say. However, this starting midfield didn't work very well at all. Without a proper pivot in there, Gundogan and Roberto had to play as a sort of quasi-double pivot, which might've worked better if Fermín played more of a 10 role. However, as it was, Almería had tons of space every single time they went on the break, as the midfield would push up and would be unable to track back. They put a ton of pressure on the center backs especially because of this. Add to that the fact that neither the German nor Roberto are the physical freaks necessary to cover so much space, and the midfield didn't work well at all. Almería had a frustrating amount of opportunities. None of the midfielders played badly individually, but the system doesn't work well. They miss Gavi.
Roberto - 8/10: Produced a near goal very early on with a header and then actually did pull off a wonderful header for Barça's second goal. He also produced the match-winner off another great run from midfield. The captain even got close twice to a third goal and a hat-trick. I'm not one of these analysts that thinks Sergi needs to rot on the bench - he can be useful in spots and he certainly does have experience and the brains. As a regular starter, no, but as a spot player he's not half bad. The midfield had its issues, Roberto included, but I covered that already in Gundogan's section, so I won't do it again here.
Fermín - 8/10: I like Fermín López very much. He's sharp and quick. He's got a great first touch, and he knows when and how to make runs. He gives the midfield a threat to score that isn't present in any other player. He has that youthful Gavi energy, while seeming very mature. He was, for me, Barça's best player in the first half.
Romeu - 7/10: Came on in the 67th for Fermín. He was solid in this one, and much better than his previous few outings. This was Romeu from September, when he held onto the ball, made good decisions, and played good defense.
Raphinha -7/10: Scored the opener to put Barça ahead and relieve just a bit of pressure, poaching it at the near post off a header from Araújo. He sometimes shoots when he should pass and vice versa, and he sometimes has a heavy first touch, but he's often very involved. He makes good runs in behind and provides danger pretty consistently. Fans should know by now what he's not, and accept him for what he is - a good, hardworking winger that won't dribble anyone but is always in good positions.
Félix - 6/10: Not impressed. Félix will have moments of brilliance, but they're just moments. He's not very effective or even that involved, honestly. He'll draw some oohs and ahhs, but little else. Ferran came on in the second and did more in ten minutes than Félix did all half. Some may say the Portuguese has been one of Barça's better players all season, and to that I point to games like this. Not enough from him for the talent he clearly has.
Lewandowski - 6/10: Let me paint a picture here: Barça up 1-0, having just scored. Almería commit a tremendous error, giving the ball away in the box, and Lewandowski has a golden chance for the second. While it was a great save, there's absolutely no way the Polish striker should be missing a point-blank shot. His finishing continues to be extremely poor, and was poor throughout. He did have a nice chipped assist for Roberto's second goal, to be fair. However, Ferran needs to start, and Xavi needs to bite the bullet and make the change now.
Ferran - 7/10: Came on at the half for Félix. Immediately improved the attack with his smart runs and pace. He really should've scored early on, but he did continue to provide more of the same throughout. Through the middle or on the left, he was good in this one.
Yamal - 6.5/10: Only played 20 or so minutes, and wasn't too involved. He had a few good moments, but mostly stayed within the confines of the system and didn't do too much on his own.
So... Barça leave this match with three points - barely. At this point, the result isn't too encouraging. The short break they'll be getting now (after the pointless friendly) should do wonders for this squad, as they're faltering. They only managed three goals when they really should've had five, at least. Last-placed Almería scored two on them, and they could've tied the match late on. Maybe a bit of time off to reset would do the squad well. Get Pedri and De Jong back, incorporate Vitor Roque, and move on from there. Hopefully Xavi's men can experience a resurgence soon.