Goals from Arturo Vidal, Martin Braithwaite, Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi saw La Liga leaders Barcelona resume the 2019-20 campaign with a 4-0 away win over strugglers Mallorca. Luis Suarez made his first appearance under Quique Setien during an encouraging return as they aim to retain the title of Spanish champions.
Setien’s side and their super start
It took just 65 seconds for La Liga leaders Barcelona to break the deadlock, scoring their first goal after a three-month hiatus, against relegation-threatened Mallorca.
Frenkie de Jong had the ball pinched off him by teenage winger Takefusa Kubo, won the ball straight back with a timely sliding tackle before slipping it into Jordi Alba’s path.
He curled an inviting cross into the box, one which Arturo Vidal met before flicking into the bottom corner beyond a helpless Manolo Reina in the hosts’ goal.
Besides the seeming ease at which Barca broke the deadlock, the more startling observation was the role captain Lionel Messi played in their opener. Their fulcrum, leading goalscorer and assist provider, watched from a distance on the far side.
Mallorca needed to wake up, otherwise they were facing a potential cricket score on their hands. After Martin Braithwaite and Messi both came close, the hosts did precisely that.
Kubo, perhaps trying to make amends for his part in Barca’s opener, was a constant livewire in the final third and tried to stretch the visitors’ improvised backline.
He forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a smart stop from distance, while trying his luck with a low but nonetheless threatening free-kick and weaving his way into the box with worrying frequency from Quique Setien’s perspective.
Having turned 19 earlier this month, the Japan international – who spent four years in Barca’s youth ranks – joined Real Madrid on a free last summer before being loaned out.
Ronald Araújo was making his first Barcelona start here alongside Gerard Pique in central defence ahead of an injury-prone Samuel Umtiti as Clement Lenglet was suspended. The 21-year-old joined from Boston River in a £1.5m move two years ago.
Braithwaite buries visitors’ second, his first Barca goal
Barcelona doubled their lead before half-time, despite a lengthy VAR review after suspicions of a handball in the build-up was thoroughly checked.
Alba’s deflected pass was headed on by both de Jong and Messi, into Martin Braithwaite’s path. He made no mistake from close-range, lashing home to score his first Barca goal.
It’s been a whirlwind few months for the former Middlesbrough forward, having joined as an emergency signing after Ousmane Dembele’s troublesome injuries worsened.
His interview with The Athletic was published this week, where the 29-year-old stressed how he’s used the unprecedented period as a way to prove he was ready if called upon.
By scoring, he became the third Danish international to score in the club’s history, after Michael Laudrup and Allan Simonsen.
Ante Budimir headed wide in stoppage-time as Mallorca looked to halve the deficit before the break, though it could’ve been even worse at the other end.
Antonio Raillo had to time his tackle perfectly to thwart a marauding Messi, probing and advancing into the hosts’ box with increasing determination as the match continued.
Both sides create promising chances in second-half
The second-half began with both sides making changes, though Mallorca again could have turned the game on its head.
Kubo exchanged passes with winger Daniel Rodriguez, before Budimir slammed his strike wide. A few inches to the right and Barca would have been under pressure again.
Luis Suarez replaced Antoine Griezmann just before the hour mark, making his first appearance since successful knee surgery in January.
Reina made a great outstretched save with his leg to deny Braithwaite earning his brace, after Messi wriggled his way into the box and released the Dane in space.
Seconds afterwards, Messi fizzed a low ball across goal but watched as Suarez failed to connect with an audacious backheel, before Araujo hit the post from a tight angle.
Barcelona’s quality proves too much for hosts to handle
Despite a handful of half-chances by the hosts, Barcelona absorbed their threatening attacks before extending their lead through Jordi Alba: Messi’s pass effortlessly splitting the Mallorca backline – allowing the fullback to take his time and stroke into the corner.
Suarez, consciously trying to get among the goals himself, blazed wide after persistent running saw him afforded a promising chance but ultimately to no avail.
Second-half substitutes Junior Lago and Abdon Prats both came close to reducing the deficit with efforts which flashed wide of ter Stegen’s far post, before the scoreline began to flatter the visitors – taking full advantage of tied legs and a stretched pitch late on.
Araujo’s direct pass was greeted by a wonderful touch from Suarez, who spotted Messi to his left and fed the Argentine. He skipped past two before firing a deflected strike beyond Reina, making it 4-0 in the dying embers of stoppage-time.
Barca were not content yet, either.
Reina was forced into another close-range stop as the roles were reversed, Messi teeing up Suarez in space. He curled goalwards but was denied just before the final whistle.
The heavy scoreline flattered Barca in truth, but Mallorca created ample chances to better test ter Stegen – they didn’t.
Barcelona host Braithwaite’s former side Leganes on Tuesday evening in their next fixture, while Mallorca look to bounce back against Villarreal – who snatched a late winner against Celta Vigo earlier today.
Title chasers Real Madrid will look to close the gap back to five points, as they entertain Eibar tomorrow.