Barcelona ended the calendar year with a 4-1 win against Alaves at Camp Nou on Saturday which will see them start 2020 at the top of La Liga.
Pere Pons had pulled a goal back for Alaves just after the break to make it 2-1 following first-half efforts from Griezmann and Vidal, but a brilliant strike from Messi and a Suarez penalty ensured Ernesto Valverde’s side held on to all three points.
Barca have had their ups and downs so far this season but they end 2019 on a run of 11 games without defeat, top of La Liga and safely through to the Champions League round-of-16. They’re in a good position heading into the New Year, which begins with the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.
One of the pleasing aspects of the performance against Alaves was the role played by Griezmann. The Frenchman has now scored in three of his last four starts in the league and, more importantly, is beginning to click with Messi. The two produced a clinical counter-attack in the first half which would have ended with a goal if Gerard Pique had not been reluctant to slide in.
Barca, two goals up, switched off at the start of the second half. They conceded a goal which should have been prevented — no one tracked Pons’ run — and were on the back foot for the next 10 minutes as Alaves sought an equaliser. They managed to come through that spell this time, with Messi’s left foot saving them, but those lapses in concentration have become a worrying trend.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Valverde made four changes to the team which drew with Madrid and got a reaction from those that came into the side.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 — Could do little about Pons’ goal on an afternoon when he had very little to do in general. One mix up with Pique almost led to an embarrassing moment but he managed to spare his own his blushes.
DF Sergi Roberto, 5 — Not bad going forward but a weak link in defence. Could not stop the cross coming in which led to the Alaves goal.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 –– A third decent display in a week. Was comfortable in defence and keen in attack, breaking forward whenever he could.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 — Came in for Clement Lenglet and did OK. With several games now under his belt following issues with his knee, he will be looking to win his place back in the side permanently in 2020.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 — Has struggled to contribute in the final third since returning from injury. He has only been back for three games, though, so it’s nothing to worry about at the moment.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 — Watched the Clasico from the bench with a fever but returned against Alaves to show what Barca missed. A silky performance.
MF Arturo Vidal, 7 — The Chilean has been in and out of the team but he’s always delivered when he’s been in. Scored his fifth league goal of the season with a sweetly struck strike from the right. For context, the other Barca midfielders have four goals between them.
MF Carles Alena, 6 — Made his first start in the league since August. Did well on the ball but unfortunately the standout moment was the image of him standing still as Pons breezed into the box unattended to score.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 — Scored his 13th goal of the season with a brilliant solo effort. It means he ends the calendar year with 50 goals for club and country for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Goals aside, though, he was also Barca’s chief creator once again.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 — Set up the first three goals and then scored the fourth from the penalty spot.
FW Antoine Griezmann, 7 — The France forward opened the scoring with a well-taken finish and was lively throughout the first half. Dipped a little bit after the break but will be happy with his form heading into the winter break.
MF Frenkie de Jong, 6 — Given a rare rest but did come on for the final 15 minutes with the game wrapped up.
DF Nelson Semedo, NR — Barely had enough time to stretch his legs after replacing Sergi Roberto.
FW Carles Perez, NR — Came on for Suarez with the clock ticking down.