It had been a long time since the ball was last kicked in La Liga prior to the break caused by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Spain, before the competition has finally been resumed on Wednesday by the Seville Derby in which Sevilla beat Real Betis by 2-0.
It’s not exactly ‘normal service resumed’, given that the games are now being played behind closed doors, but the fans of the Spanish top flight will certainly have welcomed seeing their heroes back in action, if only on TV.
Mallorca hosted Barcelona at the Estadio de Son Moix in Palma de Mallorca on Saturday evening, for the 28th game of the 2019/20 season for both teams. They could hardly be in situations more different regarding their respective positions in the table.
Barcelona are, of course, locked in a fierce battle against their arch-rivals Real Madrid to keep their title as champions. They topped the table with 58 points ahead of the match, two more than Los Blancos. On the other hand, Mallorca are fighting against relegation and were sitting 18th with 25 points. A look at that part of the pack can only tell you that the race there will be as interesting as the one at the top, if not more so.
Mallorca coach Vicente Moreno was without the services of midfielder Leonardo Koutris and defender Lumor Agbenyenu.
Manolo Reina was in goal. Martin Valjent and Antonio Raillo paired up at the heart of defence, flanked by Alejandro Pozo on the right and Juan Sastre on the left. The middle of the park was being covered by Marc Pedraza and Salva Sevilla, with Tafekusa Kubo and Daniel Rodriguez out wide. Juan Hernandez was joined by Ante Budimir in attack.
Winger Ousmane Dembele was unavailable for Barcelona, but thanks to the long break coach Quique Setien was able to welcome Luis Suarez back into the fold. The Uruguayan striker started on the bench, together with centre-back Samuel Umtiti.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen stood between the posts. Gerard Pique marshaled the back line with Ronald Araujo at his side. Sergi Roberto was on the right defensive flank, Jordi Alba on the left. Sergio Busquets anchored the midfield, joined by Frenkie de Jong and Arturo Vidal. In the absence of Suarez in the line-up, Lionel Messi was joined by Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite in a very fluid forward line.
The First Half
It took the champions only 65 seconds to get ahead. De Jong did a brilliant job of pressing and dispossessed Kubo in Mallorca’s half, before involving Alba on the left. The fullback sent an accurate cross and found Vidal, who beat Valjent in the air and slotted his header past Reina.
The early lead naturally put Barcelona on the front foot in every sense of the term. Their intricate team moves often cut through the home team’s lines, and Vidal could have added his second in the sixth minute, but his powerful volley from around 12 yards was deflected wide.
Not that Mallorca didn’t try to move forward themselves, but they couldn’t do anything of note. In the 11th minute, they were almost caught again as De Jong, Roberto and Messi combined, but the Barcelona captain’s low shot trickled across the face of the goal and wide. Only 60 seconds later, Messi played a nice one-two with Griezmann and tried again, but with the same result.
Mallorca were enduring wave after wave of Barca’s attacks and it seemed only a matter of time when they would succumb again, but in the 16th minute they broke on the counterattack with Budimir taking the ball forward and involving Rodriguez; only for Kubo to overcomplicate matters and waste the opportunity.
The Real Madrid loanee, however, did a lot better six minutes later when he broke alone down the right, cut inside and let one fly from the edge of the box, forcing a good save from Ter Stegen. The moment put some confidence into his teammates and they moved forward with more purpose for a while, but they failed to worry the Catalans too much. Signs of intent were there, but apart from Rodriguez seeing his shot from inside the box blocked followed by a feeble attempt from range from Kubo, Ter Stegen still had no work to do.
On the half-hour mark, Moreno’s men had a good opportunity when Vidal committed a foul just outside the box, in a position ideal for a left-footed shooter. Kubo set the ball and hit it hard and low, but Ter Stegen was positioned well.
At that point Mallorca were giving Barcelona a good game, but the visitors were organized and patient. Towards the end of the half they regained control and moved forward in numbers, and in the 37th minute Alba and De Jong were involved again before Messi’s headed touch put the ball into the path of Braithwaite, who slammed it into the net from around 10 yards.
For the rest of the half, Barcelona mostly kept the ball in their possession and slowed the game down, trying to put their opponents off guard before moving to break through the lines quickly, but the hosts were alert. Mallorca had another decent chance in the first of the four minutes of stoppage time as Pozo’s cross found Budimir in the air, but the Croatian’s header from a great position went a yard wide. Then Messi combined nicely with De Jong, but Reina was quick off his line to pick the ball up under the very nose of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
The Second Half
Junior Lago replaced Hernandez and Fran Gamez came on for Sastre for Mallorca, while Ivan Rakitic took to the pitch instead of Vidal for the second half.
Mallorca had another good chance two minutes in as Kubo involved Rodriguez down the right and Rodriguez found Budimir just outside the box. The striker took a shot, missing the far post by a few inches. It was another period of good play from the hosts.
In the 57th minute, Suarez entered the fray instead of Griezmann for Barcelona, while Moreno withdrew Pedraza and sent on Idrissu Baba Mohamed.
Barcelona hit back quickly after that. Messi cut inside from the right and employed Braithwaite who failed to hit the target. Messi then changed sides and set one up for Araujo with a nice volley from the left wing across the box, but the 21-year-old defender who had run up the right hit outer side of the post from close range. A few minutes later, the Barcelona captain tried one himself after some good work from Braithwaite, Suarez and Rakitic, but his blast from 10 yards went over the bar.
Mallorca, on the other hand, tried to attack and potentially get back into the contest, but apart from a couple of hopeful crosses, runs and corners, they couldn’t create a proper chance at this point.
In the 71st minute, Nelson Semedo and Arthur Melo came on to replace Roberto and Busquets.
Barcelona’s domination continued and in the 79th minute, Messi nicely put Alba through who broke in front of Reina and put the ball in the net. VAR checked whether the left-back had been offside, but all was clear.
It was certainly the moment when the winner of the game was decided and Mallorca had absolutely nothing to lose anymore. They therefore continued trying to make something happen at the other end of the pitch, but it was very difficult for them to play against the experience and quality of the defending champions.
With six minutes to go, Budimir made way for Abdon Prats for Mallorca, while Junior Firpo came on for Barcelona, replacing De Jong. Alba stepped up into the midfield, leaving the left defensive flank to the newcomer.
Mallorca ploughed on towards the end, and in the 88th minute Lago tried from a tight angle from just inside the box, just missing the far post. Prats also came close with a stoppage time header, but he couldn’t hit the target either.
And then, Barcelona dealt their hosts the final blow. Araujo showed great composure as he took the ball forward from the back line. Suarez made good use of his pass and with a clever turn took Valjent out of the play, before engaging Messi inside the box. The Argentinian glided past a few opponents in his own, recognizable way, before slamming into the top corner.
Despite the large margin of their defeat in this game, Mallorca gave a good account of themselves against one of the best teams in the world. They were brave and tried hard to match Barcelona openly, but they expectedly fell short of the Catalans’ immense quality. The final scoreline seems a little harsh, but be that as it may, Moreno and his team will have to move on from here to look for points to help them survive elsewhere.
As for Barcelona, the three points won hereby will certainly be important for their race for the top against Real Madrid, who host Eibar on Sunday.
One of the more interesting things of this match was the performance of young Ronald Araujo. It can be said that the young centre-back took his chance well and never looked out of place in this Barcelona team. He showed maturity and composure far beyond his years, coupled with pace, physicality and intelligent positioning, and his knack for running up the pitch and joining attacking moves almost earned him a goal. In fact, this game didn’t show any of the certainly vast difference in experience between him and 33-year-old club legend that is Gerard Pique. This is surely a player to watch in the future.
MALLORCA: Reina 6.5, Valjent 6, Raillo 6, Pozo 6.5, Sastre 6 (46′ Gamez 7), Pedraza 6 (Mohamed 7), Sevilla 5 (84′ Salibur N/A), Kubo 7, Rodriguez 6.5, Hernandez 4 (46′ Lago 6), Budimir 6.5 (85′ Prats N/A).
BARCELONA: Ter Stegen 7, Pique 7, Araujo 7, Roberto 6.5 (71′ Semedo 6.5), Alba 7.5, Busqets 6.5 (71′ Arthur 6), De Jong 7.5 (84′ Firpo), Vidal 7.5 (46′ Rakitic 7), Messi 7.5, Griezmann 6 (57′ Suarez 6), Braithwaite 6.5.
GOALS: Vidal 2′, Braithwaite 37′, Alba 79′, Messi 90’+3.
YELLOW CARDS: Vidal 42′, Alba 73′, Rodriguez 86′.
REFEREE: Carlos del Cerro.
DATE & VENUE: June 13, 2020, Estadio de Son Moix, Palma de Mallorca.