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Player ratings as Lopez brace inspires comfortable win


Barcelona have strengthened their grip on second place in La Liga thanks to a 2-0 win over already relegated Almeria on Thursday night.

Xavi’s side had been soundly beaten by Girona at the start of the month but have now won back-to-back games since, coupled with their Catalan neighbours suffering something of a mini collapse. All in all, it means the gap back to third-place Girona is now four points with two games left.

Fermin Lopez scored both goals, one in either half, to underline his growing importance.

How the game unfolded

As was to be expected, Barcelona enjoyed control of the ball from the earliest stages of the contest in Andalusia. Robert Lewandowski had a shot saved with a few minutes of kick-off, while the Pole soon sent a shot over the bar when through on goal and trying to lob goalkeeper Luis Maximiano.

The goal was a product of that early dominance, with Lopez arriving unmarked in the box to nod in from close-range the in-swinging cross from 17-year-old left-back Hector Fort.

Almeria hadn’t done much to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the opening quarter of the game, but they spurned a glorious chance to equalise when Leo Baptistao went clear after a swift counter attack and somehow missed the target altogether.

Ter Stegen did have to save from Anthony Lozano shortly afterwards, before Barca’s dominance was restored and Lamine Yamal hit the post from a narrow angle. Yet Almeria returned the favour and struck the woodwork at the other in the closing stages of the half, Adri Embarda denied.

When the second half began, Lozano could hardly believe he had pulled a glorious chance from the middle of the penalty area wide of the post. But neither side were able to make much in the way of actual chances until Lopez doubled his tally and Barcelona’s lead with a quarter of the game to go.

Sergi Roberto’s dart forward into the left channel made it possible, cutting the ball to the onrushing Lopez just arriving in the box. His sweeping first-time finish was unstoppable as it flew in.

The 2-0 advantage prompted Xavi to make a raft of changes, withdrawing Robert Lewandowski (again) for one, and moments later giving Vitor Roque his first minutes in a month.

Barca substitute Joao Felix probably could have made it 3-0 when the ball fortuitously broke to him in the box. He managed to turn under pressure while still keeping possession but snatched at the eventual close-range shot, causing it to hit the side netting instead of testing Maximiano.

Hector Fort impressed

Hector Fort impressed / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6/10 – Largely a spectator.

RB: Jules Kounde – 7/10 – Solid defensive performance. Managed to get forward too.

CB: Pau Cubarsi – 6/10 – More important first-team experience.

CB: Inigo Martinez – 7/10 – Played a big role in progressing the ball into attackng areas.

LB: Hector Fort – 8/10 – Gave a great account of himself, managed the ball well and got an assist.

CM: Fermin Lopez – 9/10 – Fully justified the manager’s decision to restore him to the starting XI with two very well taken goals.

CM: Sergi Roberto (c) – 7/10 – Came into the side in place of the suspended Ilkay Gundogan. Set up the second goal shortly before coming off in discomfort after an earlier collision.

CM: Pedri – 7/10 – Kept the ball well and was always looking for the gaps to exploit with passes.

RW: Lamine Yamal – 7/10 – A good source of creativity on the right, although why Xavi is insisting that he starts every game ahead of what is likely to be a busy summer is questionable.

ST: Robert Lewandowski – 4/10 – Disappointing night that ended with minimal involvement and another early withdrawal.

LW: Ferran Torres – 6/10 – Made a couple of half chances and fired a shot of his own just wide.

Substitutes

SUB: Andreas Christensen (69′ for Roberto) – 6/10

SUB: Joao Felix (69′ for Lewandowski) – 6/10

SUB: Vitor Roque (73′ for Torres) – 5/10

SUB: Joao Cancelo (73′ for Fort) – 6/10

SUB: Oriol Romeu (83′ for Pedri) – 6/10

Subs not used: Diego Kochen (GK), Inaki Pena (GK), Marcos Alonso, Marc Casado, Raphinha.

Manager

Xavi – 7/10 – This wasn’t the best performance from Barcelona, but the boss made decent use of his squad overall. It looks like he might be sending a message to Lewandowski ahead of next season.

Player of the match – Fermin Lopez (Barcelona)

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