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Barcelona miss Lewandowski, extend LaLiga lead as Pedri scores match winner on his 100th appearance

1. Barca survive attacking absences to claim points

A trip to a cold and windy Estadi Montilivi was never going to be easy for Barca, but their task was further complicated by the absence of 22-goal top scorer Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres through suspension. They then lost Ousmane Dembele, who has been in great form, to injury in the first half to leave them lacking a goal threat against a Girona side happy to sit back and play on the counter-attack.

A stalemate looked possible in the first half with neither side really coming close. Yan Couto wasted the home side’s best chance early on and Ansu Fati fired over the bar for Barca after a defensive error.

Xavi brought Jordi Alba on for Marcos Alonso at the break to compensate for a lack of width on the left and the change soon paid dividends. Alba had already got into several good positions when his cross led to the opening goal. Frenkie de Jong also pushed on and pressed much more to help Ansu and Raphinha in attack.

The goal forced Girona to play more on the front foot but Barca — thanks to a Ronald Araujo header off the line, some good defending from Jules Kounde and wayward finishing — saw the game out for a 14th clean sheet in 18 LaLiga fixtures this season.

2. Pedri “Potter” stars on 100th appearance

Pedri was not deemed fit enough to start this game after picking up a knock against Real Sociedad in midweek. However, Dembele’s injury and the lack of attacking depth available meant he was needed earlier than planned.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
– Read on ESPN+: Welcome to the era of the midfielder

So, on he came for his 100th Barcelona appearance at the age of 20. Xavi has asked him to get in to more goal-scoring positions and he is responding. His goal here was an example of being in the right place at the right time as he made himself Barca’s match-winner for the second weekend running. He also scored the only goal against Getafe this past Sunday.

His performances have earned him the nickname “Pedri Potter” and, as Montilivi fell silent after his strike, that was all you could hear the radio commentators screaming.

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3. Competitive Girona come up short

Girona drew with Madrid earlier this season but could not take points off Barca. Despite a spirited display after falling behind, they were beaten by their Catalan rivals for the third consecutive time at Montilivi in LaLiga.

They will lament missed chances late in the game. Ivan Martin missed the best of them and Valery fired over in stoppage time. There was also an Araujo header off the line and some last-ditch defending from Kounde as the 13,500 home crowd roared their team on.

It was not to be, though, and Girona remain pointless against Barca in the top flight. They have shown throughout the season that they should have more than enough to stay up, although the four-point gap to the bottom three will be unsettling for coach Michel, who was sent off late on.

Best and worst performers

Best: Pedri, Barcelona

The Catalan side’s match winner for the second week running.

Best: Ronald Araujo, Barcelona

The Uruguayan’s recovery pace helped Barca out several times and he was a rock as Girona pressed late on.

Best: Rodrigo Riquelme, Girona

The on-loan Atletico Madrid winger created a lot of problems with his tricky footwork.

Worst: Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona

Started slowly and was then forced off with an injury. Given his form and importance, Barca will hope it is nothing serious.

Worst: Paulo Gazzaniga, Girona

Could have done better when palming the ball to Pedri for the goal.

Worst: Ivan Martin, Girona

Missed a glorious late chance to claim a point.

Barcelona’s head coach Xavi: “We have to improve, above all by taking more on in attack. Girona changed their style [sitting back] which surprised us, but we dominated the ball and pressed high. We have to create more. We have to be calmer in the final third. I am happy with the three points, but we have to be self-critical and acknowledge there are situations we need to improve.”

Xavi on Dembele injury: “I think it is an injury. He felt something in his quadricep. He will have tests but he will miss some games, we just hope [he is out] for the least time possible. We wanted to open the pitch with him today, get him in one-on-one situations, and we lost a real difference maker when he went off.”

Xavi on Pedri: “He makes a difference to how we play, getting in between the lines, his final pass … and if you add his assists and goals to that, we are talking about one of the best in the world in his position. He has to take more risks some times, but that is also the case for Gavi, Frenkie, Kessie. … I am really happy for Pedri, though, making his 100th appearance for the club. His numbers are fantastic.”

Girona head coach Michel: “We played really well. We put in a lot of effort and had three or four really good chances. Barca only had their goal as a big chance. It is a shame to lose, I would say it’s not a fair result based on what was seen on the pitch.

This Barcelona side is very intense. Their pressing after losing the ball is so good, the best in the league. They press you, they pin you back and they don’t let you out. But I think we did well, we minimised their chances and created our own. I am satisfied with the performance.”

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