Everyone's got some kind of New Year's resolution, even footballers. Xavi must've planned for more structure. Lewandowski, to practice his finishing more. Ferran, to finally crack the starting lineup. Fans of Barça around the world must've wished for more consistent play, and results that could keep the team in the La Liga race.
FC Barcelona started the new year in the Canary Islands, facing off against Las Palmas. Xavi's squad would clash against García Pimienta's (with quite a few former Barça players). It was a disjointed game for much of the night, with Las Palmas scoring within the first 15 minutes, and Barça had to find a way back to win 2-1. While not exactly an encouraging match, it's three vital points that can hopefully start a winning streak. Let's take a look at each player and how they contributed to the win:
Iñaki Peña - 6/10: He didn't have to do a lot, but he looked quite shaky at times. Punching away balls that he should've grabbed, not knowing when to come out and when to stay back. The goal conceded was a difficult save to be sure, but he could've been better positioned. Apart from those few odd decisions, not super involved. A bit strange from him in this one.
Balde - 7/10: The high line Las Palmas insisted a lot of Barça's offense in this one, and Alejandro Balde was very often a recipient of through balls down that left side. Several times, he sprung free off passes from Gundogan and Frenkie. He had a good few crosses in that had to be dealt with by the defenders, and generally played quite a good game. Balde's defensive acumen is currently ahead of his offensive production, but he was quite good in this one.
Araújo - 7/10: Apart from Las Palmas's goal, he was pretty good. Physical as always on defense and sticky on his targets. He also drove the ball forward a fair bit, taking advantage of pockets in the defense to run into space, almost like a fullback. Can't be an 8 because of that goal, however. Christensen let the ball get past him, but Araújo should've been there to cut the pass out.
Koundé - 7/10: A bit silent in this one, but solid. Apart from the first part of the first half, Las Palmas didn't really put a ton of pressure on Barça. Part of this was their willingness to let the Catalan team have possession, but a larger part was the defense and midfield. For as much maligned as they usually are (and for good reason) this one was a good match for them.
Cancelo - N/A: Came off in the 11th with an apparent knee injury. Xavi downplayed it after the game, but the Portuguese fullback got hurt quite early on and couldn't continue. Very sad to see, obviously.
Christensen - 6/10: Would be the same as Araújo or Koundé, but his defense on the opponent's goal was lackluster. He let the ball pass right in front of him, expecting someone else to intercept it, but it was a beautiful pass to Munir (former Barça player) and he was able to finish. Apart from this, not bad, but these individual mistakes from the defenders have got to stop soon.
De Jong - 7/10: Frenkie is an extremely talented player, and there's no reason he shouldn't be a defensive terror as well as a skilled ball carrier. He won 13 duels in this match, not losing a single one. Every time Las Palmas approached him, he picked their pocket. He also showcased his passing skills quite admirably (although he did produce some offsides). However, one thing I want to mention: There was more than one time where he lost the ball and didn't track back on defense, instead throwing up his hands and showing some bad body language. Didn't like that.
Gundogan - 8/10: He basically saved the game, drawing the penalty and slotting it home for the win. Apart from this, he was also quite good, although he lost quite a few balls. However, Barça often had every midfielder and forward make runs, to take advantage of the high line. This would leave Frenkie and/or Gundogan quite isolated, forcing them to loop passes forward as there was no link between the midfield and forwards. This would result in 14 (!) offsides, playing into the opposition's hands.
Roberto - 7/10: Sergi is a good player (when he's in the midfield). Nothing amazing, but very solid. It helps that for some reason, he seems to be maybe the only player who actually knows what Xavi wants him to do. He made some nice runs in behind the defense, but mixed that well with dropping back to help link up.
Fermín - 6/10: Came on in the 78th for Roberto. He was solid in this one, and he generally was a good link between players once the game opened up a bit more. I like Fermín a lot, but there wasn't too much to speak of in this performance.
Ferran - 8/10: Ferran needs to start. He's been incredibly productive, scoring 10 goals in 12 games (or the equivalent of 12 games when the minutes are added up). He's been more effective than Lewandowski or Félix in less time. I was glad to see him start this match, and he tied the game up at the start of the second half on a strange play. It bounced down to him, and he slotted it into the corner. He made nice runs, receiving quite a few balls in between the lines and providing danger in behind.
Raphinha - 6/10: He wasn't... bad, exactly, but he didn't do much at all. He had a bit of a spat with Xavi on the sideline, if the press is to be believed, but I can see his point of view. Keeping wide, helping push the high line back, isn't where he's best at. He did make some nice runs, but most were offside. The role was pretty restrictive, though. He tries his best to make a difference, of course, but his shots went wayward. Not that good in this one.
Lewandowski - 6/10: The Polish striker was barely able to make runs against the back line, and was unable to get any good chances in this one. Not sure what the answer is at this point. Ferran could take his place down the middle, but then the Spaniard is better than Félix on the left. Guiu and Roque are very promising, but they're young and the pressure may be too much right now. Lewandowski isn't what he used to be, clearly. Not good, but in a different way than Raphinha.
Yamal - 7/10: Xavi's treatment of Yamal is one of his best jobs as manager. He brings him on for 15-20 minutes per match, and the youngster shows his prowess in spurts until he's ready. He plays smartly for his age, and makes some good decisions consistently. He didn't try to go beyond his capabilities, and he showed a bit of danger in this one when he had chances.
Félix - 7/10: He played well with Balde on the left in this one. He combined well with Frenkie as well. He didn't lose too many balls, and the team picked up a bit of intensity when he came on. He also gave Vitor Roque a ball that really should've been his first goal. Solid game from him.
Roque - 7/10: An exciting debut for the 18-year old Brazilian. He already looked like he'd been playing here since the beginning of the year. He made runs in behind, and provided passing lanes when others had the ball. He really should've scored in the 97th minute and iced the match, but it was his first match. Let's not pile on him just yet.
In the end, Xavi's men were victorious, but if anyone was under any illusion that the new year would bring a totally new team, they were sadly mistaken. The same defensive mistakes reared their ugly heads (even if it was only one this time). The team struggles to finish, and struggles to link the midfield and forward line consistently, no matter if it's a low block or a high line. Things need to improve, for sure, but the mentality of the team won out in this one and Barça went home with all three points.