FC Barcelona now boast a 12-point lead at the top of the LaLiga Santander table, thanks to their 2-1 victory against Real Madrid in Sunday’s ElClasico.
The Catalans came from behind to win what was a thrilling game, packed with end-to-end action.
The title is within reach for FC Barcelona
By winning this game against their closest challenger in the title race, FC Barcelona have moved 12 points ahead of Real Madrid with 12 rounds to play. That is a significant margin and no team in the history of LaLiga Santander has ever failed to win the title when boasting such a large lead in the standings. Despite the 12-point advantage, Barca are taking nothing for granted just yet. Captain Sergio Busquets stated after the game: “We know there are 12 matches to go and, even though we have a large lead, we have to keep this up.”
Kessie is becoming increasingly important for Barca
Franck Kessie’s 92nd-minute winner was his first ever goal in LaLiga Santander, and the emotion poured through him as he celebrated it. The 26-year-old had an up and down first half of the season following his transfer from AC Milan, but is becoming increasingly important in Xavi’s system and ElClasico was the 11th LaLiga Santander match in a row in which he featured, after he’d only played in seven of the first 15 games of the campaign. As a midfielder, Kessie’s primary job isn’t to score goals, but he is showing that he can contribute in attack as he now has three goals and three assists in total across all competitions this season, while he has also stepped up in Barca’s midfield during a period in which several regular starters have been out injured.
Few left-backs in world football are as dangerous in attack as Alejandro Balde
It was Kessie who scored the winning goal, but the assist shouldn’t be forgotten. Alejandro Balde did brilliantly to burst inside the penalty area and to pick out the midfielder on the far side of the box for his first ever assist in ElClasico, and surely not his last. The 19-year-old left-back is having a brilliant season for FC Barcelona and this was his fifth assist in LaLiga Santander of the season. That makes him the defender with the most assists in the competition, while he has even provided more league assists than any other teenager in Europe’s top five divisions in 2022/23. Balde played with confidence throughout Sunday’s ElClasico, and is clearly a player who can deliver on the big occasions regardless of his age and experience.
Xavi is getting the most out of Sergi Roberto in midfield
Over the years, Sergi Roberto’s incredible versatility has seen him deployed in various positions for FC Barcelona. While he is a midfielder first and foremost, the Catalan and La Masia product has spent a lot of his career at right-back, so much so that it even became rare for him to be used in his natural position. However, Xavi is playing the 31-year-old in midfield as much as he can and this is paying off. In the absence of Pedri, it was Sergi Roberto who joined Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Frenkie de Jong in midfield for ElClasico and he paid his coach back with the equaliser right on the stroke of half-time. That was Roberto’s fourth goal this LaLiga Santander season, as many as he’d scored in his previous four seasons combined, so it’s clear that Xavi’s decision to play the Catalan in midfield is bearing fruit.
It isn’t easy to get past Militao
Even though he was on the losing side, Eder Militao can leave Barcelona with his head held high. Real Madrid’s Brazilian centre-back was excellent in this game, finishing with five clearances, four blocked shots, two interceptions and two completed tackles, as well as winning all his aerial duels. He largely kept Robert Lewandowski quiet and lived up to the praise he recently received from his coach Carlo Ancelotti, who called him the best centre-back in world football right now. If it hadn’t been for Militao, Barca might have found their winner well before the 92nd minute.