With just 11 games to go, Barca are moving increasingly closer to a first league title since 2019, while Elche, 13 points adrift at the bottom, need a miracle to avoid relegation to the second division.
1. Ansu needed a goal at end of difficult week
The most significant goal of Barca’s four was the one scored by Ansu. He has dominated media coverage in Catalonia this week after his dad, Bori, gave an interview in which he said he thought he should leave Barca in search of more minutes. Bori was speaking as a father. He said he understood the competition for places was fierce and that Xavi Hernandez had guided Barca to a commanding lead at the top of the table, but he pointed out his son was the one chosen to inherit Lionel Messi‘s No. 10 shirt.
Against Elche, with Ousmane Dembele injured and Raphinha suspended, Ansu came into the side. Despite Bori’s qualms, the numbers have not lied recently. The Spain forward was without a league goal since October and without a goal in any competition since January — a run spanning 12 games. That did not look like changing in the first half.
However, Ansu, still only 20, took his moment in the second half, picking up the ball on the halfway line and being allowed to run towards the box, where he produced a brilliant finish into the bottom corner. It’s the sort of goal which Barca, Ansu and Bori will all help to change the youngster’s fortunes and earn him more minutes in the coming months.
Ansu’s goal was sandwiched by two Lewandowski strikes. The Polish striker has not been in red hot form recently but now has 17 goals in LaLiga — a league high — and, like Ansu, his confidence should be boosted ahead of Wednesday’s Clasico against Real Madrid in the semifinal of the Copa del Rey (stream the match on ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET).
2. Xavi tinkers with lineup ahead of Copa Clasico
On the back of the international break, and with Real Madrid to come Wednesday, Barcelona made five changes to the team which won the LaLiga Clasico at the end of March. Most interestingly, Eric Garcia, a centre-back, was used as a defensive midfielder. He did well but bigger tests will come if he is to transition to this position permanently.
Further forward, Ferran came in on the right wing and also passed the test. One fine cross at the end of the first half deserved a goal — Lewandowski could not convert — and he took his own goal really well in the second period. Later on, there was a debut for 19-year-old midfielder Aleix Garrido.
Xavi’s changes were mainly influenced by injuries. Dembele, Frenkie de Jong, Andreas Christensen were all missing with knocks. De Jong could be back to face Madrid; the other three are unlikely to feature. Raphinha will return from suspension, though, while Sergio Busquets and Alejandro Balde will benefit from a rest here.
3. Elche’s sixth coach this season but same result
Sebastian Beccacece sat in the Elche dugout Saturday to become the sixth coach to oversee a game this season. The result, however, was familiar to the home fans: another loss. They have now won just two of their 27 LaLiga games look set to drop into the second tier of Spanish football.
On this showing, they are going down without much of a fight, too. They were far too passive in defence, allowing Ansu and Ferran to score virtually unchallenged. Barca will not have an easier time between now and the end of the season.
Once 4-0 down, they did have a go late on, even hitting the bar, but it was far too little and far too late — for this game and for the season.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Gavi, Barcelona.
Despite being 18, he was the veteran of Barca’s midfield with De Jong and Busquets not on the pitch — and he played like it.
BEST: Ferran Torres, Barcelona.
Gave Carlos Clerc a torrid time, scored one goal, assisted one.
BEST: Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona.
Scored a brace and created Ferran’s goal with a fine pass.
WORST: Omar Mascarell, Elche.
Made a good block on a Jules Kounde shot but, at this level, you cannot let Ansu run through like he did for the second goal.
WORST: Carlos Clerc, Elche.
The left-back struggled to get to grips with Ferran.
WORST: Jose Angel Carmona, Elche.
The defender played in midfield but could not affect the game and then injured himself racing on to a through ball.
Highlights and notable moments
After a difficult week amid season-long struggles, you can tell what that goal meant for Ansu Fati.
ANSU FATI TAKES IT ALL THE WAY FOR HIS FIRST LEAGUE GOAL SINCE OCTOBER 😤 pic.twitter.com/XankkP0TAa
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 1, 2023
Robert Lewandowski entered the game without a goal in three league matches. He ensured that streak didn’t reach four.
LEWANDOWSKI GETS HIS BRACE ✌️ pic.twitter.com/06Klu6rGFs
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 1, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez on Ansu Fati: “Scoring always breeds confidence for forwards. Everything came off perfectly today. Ansu was tired at the end, he did a lot of work. He is a really important play for me. The goal is a consequence of his hard work and his talent. I am especially happy for him, for Ferran [Torres]… people that deserved to score have scored tonight.”
Xavi on defender Eric Garcia’s role in midfield: “It was [sporting director] Jordi Cruyff’s idea, he has been saying it since last season, that he thinks he has the attributes to play there. We had a friendly game with the B team and he did well there. It was a great performance today. We could have a great pivot on our hands.”
Xavi on Aleix Garrido debut: “He has the Barcelona profile. Technically he is gifted, he has a good final pass… It is still early but he is a player I like.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Barcelona has 19 clean sheets this season, the most through 27 matchdays by any team in LaLiga history.
– This is Barcelona’s fifth game scoring at least four goals in LaLiga this season. Three of those games have been on the road, tied with Bayern Munich and Napoli for most such away games in the top five European leagues.
Barcelona: Back at the Camp Nou on Wednesday to host the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinals clash against Clasico rivals Real Madrid (stream the match on ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET). Barcelona go into the match with a one-goal advantage as they aim to continue their objective of two trophies.