Mallorca fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Barcelona which sent the visitors to the top of La Liga’s table on Saturday evening.
“Oh my God,” Mallorca’s manager Javier Aguirre gushed pre-game. “I’ve seen him on TV. It’s a good signing for the league.” Well, the arrival of Robert Lewandowski is certainly a plus for one particular La Liga side – and it wasn’t Mallorca as the prolific Pole proved the difference.
The defensively dogged hosts regularly collapsed into a compact 5-4-1 off the ball, desperate to limit any space between the lines as Barcelona slipped through the half.
Barcelona patiently pushed and probed but were denied within 20 minutes thanks to Aguirre’s encouraging minutes. And then Lewandowski won the ball.
Lewandowski lured Martin Valjent out of the back three with his wandering and sneaked into the box to collect Ansa Fatih’s pass. The slippery number nine slashed at his right leg with a stomp that sent a spray of surface water into the air. When the drops fell, the ball rustled into the net of Predrag Rajkovič. Lewandowski hit the far post on the left edge of the six-yard box.
The visitors predictably dominated possession but it was a much more even game in terms of chances – in fact the home side had more shots than their illustrious visitors. Mallorca were keen to attack through their defenders and threaten from set pieces.
Antonio Sanchez provided an incisive presence, bursting forward from midfield. In the first half, his low cross caught Mallorca’s left wing-back Jaume Costa. After Costa got into the middle of Barcelona’s box and escaped the attention of Alejandro Balde to meet Antonio Sanchez’s low cross, Marc-Andre ter Stegen chested it from seven yards.
After the break, Sanchez forced Ter Stegen to do more with a shot himself, he dribbled past Gavi and into the penalty area.
With an advantage to hang on to, Barcelona prioritized control of the next goal and dropped the tempo in an attempt to quell Mallorca’s threat.
However, a flurry of turnovers from the Catalans gave Mallorca a glimmer of hope during the closing stages and spelled a nervy finish for the gold-clad visitors. Nevertheless, Barcelona maintained their slim lead and ensured Xavi remained unbeaten in his first 18 away games as a La Liga manager – breaking Zinedine Zidane’s record with Real Madrid.
Barcelona player ratings vs Mallorca – La Liga
1. Barcelona (4-3-3)
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6/10 – A bit fortuitous to see Costa’s close-range effort fired straight at him but managed to avoid spilling the ball to an opponent.
RB: Alejandro Balde – 6/10 – Starting on his unnatural flank, Balde’s blistering pace bailed him out of some potentially sticky situations.
CB: Gerard Pique – 7/10 – The bodyguard for Mallorca’s aerially prolific striker Vedat Muriqi.
CB: Andreas Christensen – 5/10 – Rarely took full advantage of the space he was given to carry the ball into.
LB: Jordi Alba – 5/10 – Drifted infield, leaving Fati to provide the width down the left.
CM: Franck Kessie – 5/10 – Aggressively pushing forward, the advanced midfielder was often the closest player to Lewandowski but rarely linked with the goalscorer.
CM: Sergio Busquets – 7/10 – Blessed with a perennial pocket of space to receive a short pass and fire off another one, knitting together Barcelona’s buildup.
CM: Gavi – 5/10 – Enthusiastically threw his tiny frame around the pitch with infectious but indisciplined enthusiasm.
RW: Ousmane Dembele – 5/10 – Skirted around the fringes of the contest.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – 8/10 – The “killer” – as Aguirre dubbed him – emphatically lived up to his pre-game billing.
LW: Ansu Fati – 7/10 – On his first La Liga start in 11 months, Fati jinked away from Pablo Maffeo to assist Lewandowski’s opener – though the Pole still had a lot to do.
SUB: Pedri (67′ for Kessie) – 5/10
SUB: Raphinha (67′ for Fati) – 5/10
SUB: Ferran Torres (80′ for Dembele) – N/A
SUB: Sergi Roberto (80′ for Alba) – N/A
Manager: Xavi Hernandez – 5/10 – While it was another win and a clean sheet, Xavi could hardly take much credit for Lewandowski’s moment of inspiration as Barcelona scarcely threatened elsewhere.