Barcelona put on a show in front of an adoring Camp Nou on Sunday, beating Real Valladolid by a score of 4-0. Robert Lewandowski scored a brilliant brace — denied a hat trick only by the woodwork, twice — while Pedri and Sergi Roberto added goals of their own.
In addition to Lewandowski, a few other new recruits made their marks, too. Raphinha was electric from the wing, while Jules Kounde made his first start for the club, and promptly made a goal-line clearance to maintain Marc-Andre ter Stegen‘s clean sheet.
1. Summer signings transform Barcelona
Barcelona’s summer signings have transformed the team and the atmosphere around Camp Nou. Lewandowski scored twice against Valladolid to take his tally to four goals in three games for his new club, while Raphinha was also sensational as Barca made it seven points from their opening three fixtures.
While Lewandowski got the goals, it was Raphinha who dazzled most in the first half. The Brazilian’s pace, change of direction and the quality of his deliveries was too much for the visitors. He created four chances alone in the first 15 minutes, one of which Lewandowski headed on to the inside of the post, and then set up the opening goal in the 24th minute, which Lewandowski acrobatically turned home.
After Ousmane Dembele had set up Pedri for Barca’s second before the break, Lewandowski added his second of the evening in the 64th minute with a deflected effort after more good work from Dembele. The Polish striker is the first player to score four goals in his first three LaLiga games since 2011, when Radamel Falcao managed the same feat. He then hit the woodwork for the second time late on to inadvertently tee up the fourth goal for Sergi Roberto.
Barca’s investment was not limited to attackers this summer, though. They were finally able to hand a debut to Kounde here after he was registered with LaLiga on Saturday. He started at right-back before finishing at centre-back, where he produced a goal-line clearance late on.
It was all very exciting for the home fans, who rattled off Lewandowski’s name to the theme music from The Flinstones throughout the game. There were 83,972 at Camp Nou for this fixture following attendances of more than 90,000 against Manchester City in midweek and 81,104 for the season opener against Rayo Vallecano. Crowds had dwindled to little more than 50,000 by the end of last season. The lick of paint applied to the squad has put bums back in seats.
2. Barca bench looking increasingly cramped
While recruitment has gone to plan for Barcelona, exits have not. After just managing to make room within their LaLiga-imposed spending limit to register Kounde to face Valladolid, director of football Mateu Alemany said outgoings will be necessary before Thursday’s transfer deadline to ease the financial pressure on the club.
It is no secret who Barca would like to move on. Coach Xavi Hernandez has made his feelings on Sergino Dest crystal clear in recent weeks. For the third league game in a row, the United States international wasn’t even named on the bench for Sunday’s win.
Other players who may leave were in the squad but did not make it on. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was an unused substitute as talks continue over a move to Chelsea. Sources tell ESPN Barca are holding out for a €25 million transfer fee, while Chelsea are prepared to go to €20m.
Memphis Depay, meanwhile, was also left on the bench. An uncertain few days await him, but it looks like Frenkie de Jong may stay despite a rollercoaster of summer with interest from the Premier League. He was a substitute against Valladolid but was the first player to be brought on in the second half.
3. Balde proving capable of covering for Alba
There was a second successive start for Alejandro Balde at left-back. The emergence of the 18-year-old this season has been one of the big surprises so far given he is in competition with veteran Spain international Jordi Alba for a spot in Xavi’s team.
Xavi took the brave decision to throw Balde in at Real Sociedad last weekend and demonstrated his faith in him once again by handing him 90 minutes against Valladolid. Balde is a rocket when he carries the ball forward, but he is also showing defensive nous. It means Barca may decide against signing a left-back before the window closes.
He looks more than ready to at least provide competition for Alba, even if he doesn’t yet take his place on a permanent basis. Things look bleaker for Gerard Pique, who, sat alongside Alba on the bench, is still yet to feature in LaLiga this season and now, with the addition of Kounde, has an even longer list of centre-backs ahead of him in former teammate Xavi’s pecking order.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona
Raphinha was good but Lewandowski’s influence goes beyond just putting the ball in the net. His link-up play brings others into the game and his movement creates space for others, as could be seen for Pedri’s goal.
WORST: Monchu, Valladolid
The former Barca midfielder will have dreamed of starring on his return to Camp Nou, but he was a passenger in the first half, sat in front of the Valladolid back four. He was taken off at the break.
Highlights and notable moments
Lewandowski had himself an evening at Camp Nou. A pair of goals for the Poland international, neither of which were particularly straight forward.
Can we take a moment to appreciate the flexibility of this man’s hamstrings? It’s one thing to get your boot that high, in a dead sprint, and quite another to accurately direct it past the keeper and into the goal. Sensational work from Lewandowski.
Lewandowski’s reach 😲 pic.twitter.com/WkxqMuPXtE
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 28, 2022
And yet, it got even more spectacular. Not only did this backheel get the Camp Nou on its feet, it roused most of the internet, too.
BACKHEEL GOAL LEWANDOWSKI WOW 😱 pic.twitter.com/YVFXFfoi8F
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 28, 2022
After the match: What the managers, players said
“Apart from the goals, I would highlight Lewandowski’s timing,” Xavi told broadcasters after the match. “Everything that he does that perhaps the fans don’t see so much, in terms off of the ball, is extraordinary. He is a natural leader. It’s incredible how he’s adapted to the group. He works so hard, he’s an example.
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Raphinha registered his first assist with Barcelona this season. He made only three goal contributions in 35 games played with Leeds United last season in the Premier League.
With his assists on Pedri’s goal and Lewandowski’s second, Dembele now has 13 in 19 appearances this calendar year. That’s more than anyone else is Europe’s Big Five leagues, with Lionel Messi (12 assists in 18 appearances) and Kevin De Bruyne (11 in 20) Dembele’s closest challengers.