Defending champions Barcelona will finish 2018 as the La Liga leaders after they eased past Celta Vigo in a 2-0 win at Camp Nou on Saturday evening.
Barcelona started the game strongly, taking the initiative from the get-go in search of an early goal. That early goal did arrive, just ten minutes in as Ousmane Dembele scored past Ruben Blanco, after Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba had combined to slice open the Celta Vigo defence.
The hosts continued dominating proceedings for the rest of the half, with Celta Vigo only managing one clear-cut chance against the run of play, as Marc-Andre ter Stegen thwarted Maxi Gomez. Barcelona though, went on to double their lead at the stroke of half-time, as Messi and Alba combined again, much to the delight of the fans.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 22, 2018
Sergio Busquets found Alba on the left flank, before the left-back timed his square ball to perfection, finding Messi, who made no mistake in finding the back of the net. Post the break, Barcelona did manage to conjure up a couple of chances, but played well within themselves to consolidate the lead they already had.
Celta, on the other hand, could never quite threaten as much as they had done in the corresponding fixture last season, as the game ended 2-0. The result meant Barcelona secured top spot before the winter break, and will start 2019 as the La Liga leaders. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 8/10
It was an evening when ter Stegen wasn’t called into action regularly. In fact, the German goalkeeper had more work to do with his feet than with his gloves. But, he was at hand to make a fine save when Maxi Gomez tested him from range in the first half, an important stop that kept Barcelona in the lead. Also showed great alertness to collect the ball safely during a scramble in the second half.
Nelson Semedo: 7/10
Back into the side after missing last weekend’s win over Levante. Semedo was in fine form on Saturday, taking advantage of the fact that Celta Vigo were constantly pegged back to cause trouble in the final third. Almost scored on the night as well, only to see Ruben Blanco deny him. Finally settling in at Camp Nou.
Gerard Pique: 7/10
On paper, Maxi Gomez had the potential to make it a long night for Pique. But, the veteran Spaniard used all his experience to negate whatever little threat the Celta Vigo striker created. And, as always, barely anything went past him in the air. Also getting used to his partnership with Clement Lenglet, which is a positive sign.
Clement Lenglet: 7/10
Lenglet had the unenviable task to contain 2018’s top scoring Spaniard in La Liga, Iago Aspas, and he did so with aplomb. So much so, that the Spanish international was the first attacking change made by Miguel Cardoso due to his inefficacy against Lenglet. Continues to grow in the absence of Samuel Umtiti, who might not be able to return to the starting lineup straightaway.
Jordi Alba: 9/10
📊 | #BarcaCelta | Alba’s stats against Celta:
83.1 % pass accuracy
3 Key passes
2 Big chance created
3 Long balls completed
1 Duel won
1 foul won
Another great game for El Ferrari. pic.twitter.com/RQqPFIpjbt
— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) December 22, 2018
Messi may be Barcelona’s talisman, but the 2018-19 has been Jordi Alba’s season, with the Spaniard relishing the opportunity to prove his naysayers wrong. Saturday’s was another outing wherein Alba was nearly flawless, creating the bulk of goalscoring chances for his side.
The 29-year-old was the catalyst of the first goal, drifting into the box before being found by Messi. He then set up the Barcelona captain with an inch-perfect, consummately times pass and nearly missed a hat-trick of assists due to Luis Suarez’s profligacy. Barely threatened at the back and when he was, he dealt with the threat quite easily.
Ivan Rakitic: 7/10
A typical outing from Rakitic – energetic, assured and unspectacular. The Croat did not need to do anything out of the ordinary either, with the win coming easily to Barcelona. He simply kept things ticking in the middle of the park while negating the Celta Vigo threat with elan.
Sergio Busquets: 8/10
With Vidal and Ivan Rakitic providing an energetic presence ahead of him, Busquets had the easiest job on the park – setting the tempo the game, which comes ever so naturally to him. The experienced Spain midfielder was also key to the build-up of the second goal, as he found Alba on the left flank with a beautiful long ball.
Arturo Vidal: 6/10
There were more positive signs on show from Vidal on Saturday, in an energetic outing that showed that the Chilean is now comfortably settled at Barcelona. In particular, his link-up with Messi is developing in a delightful manner. Taken off at the hour mark for some well deserved rest.
Lionel Messi: 8.5/10
In a first half that Barcelona dominated almost entirely, Messi ran the show for the hosts, slotting into a deeper role and finding the runners with perfectly weighted pass. His connection with Alba in particular, is becoming a stuff of legends, with the two sharing a mesmeric understanding.
Leo #Messi heads into the winter break:
✅ 1st in La Liga with 15 goals this season
✅ 1st in La Liga with 10 assists this season
✅ 1st in La Liga with 34 goals in the 2018 calendar year
Happy holidays, Mr. G.O.A.T.! 🐐 pic.twitter.com/7Vt6C4Ck2J
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 23, 2018
Capped off a spectacular first half with a well deserved goal – his sixth in the last three league games -after he had sliced open the Celta Vigo defence in the build-up to Dembele’s opener. Played well within himself in the second half, but he did not really need to expend any energy anyway.
Messi is now the only player to have scored 15 goals or more in each of the last 11 seasons, across the 5 biggest leagues in Europe, and the top scorer in La Liga.
Luis Suarez: 6/10
While the first half was the Lionel Messi show, the second could have been Luis Suarez’s. The Uruguayan striker had two opportunities to find the back of the net, particularly when Alba found him with a brilliant pass. A minor blip in a solid recent run.
Ousmane Dembele: 7/10
Dembele is another player who has been playing well recently, and he continued his good run with a fine finish to open the scoring from Barcelona after Messi’s initial effort was parried by Ruben Blanco. But, after the first quarter of the game, the Frenchman sort of switched off, an aspect of his game that he needs to address. Taken off for Coutinho in the 68th minute.
Another cameo appearance that helped him ease back into the thick of things. The Brazilian kept things simple, with the game pretty much wrapped up.
Philippe Coutinho: 6/10
Yet again, Coutinho had to suffice with a place on the bench, and Dembele’s goalscoring outing means he might have to remain content with a few more substitute appearances, particularly because he did not really show why he needs to be handed more starts in the last 20 minutes.
Carles Alena: N/A
On for the final few minutes, Alena helped see the game out.