Barcelona edged to a narrow 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid in La Liga as the champions strengthened their lead at the top of the table on Saturday.
After enduring a frustrating first half in which the home side struggled to create chances at the Camp Nou, Barca finally took the initiative after Gerard Pique was brought down by a clumsy challenge in the Valladolid box. Lionel Messi stepped up to coolly convert the penalty and edge the champions ahead on the stroke of half time.
Barcelona's frustrations in struggling to find consistency and fluidity continued in the second half, but they finally came to life late on as Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez combined excellently to earn the home side's second penalty.
However, at the second time of asking, Messi missed the chance to put away his second penalty and double Barca's lead, but the champions were able to do enough to see out the result against a Valladolid side which never looked likely to pose any real threat to the home side.
Check out our breakdown of the game below.
Key Talking Point
With Ernesto Valverde having made a number of changes to his starting XI in the first game since the Barcelona boss extended his contract at the Camp Nou, the Catalans lacked their usual fluidity in midfield and were without a more consistently threatening dynamic in attack.
Clement Lenglet, Ivan Rakitic, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez all dropped to the bench having started in Barcelona's previous game away to Athletic Bilbao, whilst Thomas Vermaelen, Carlos Alena, Ousmane Dembele and Kevin-Prince Boateng were all drafted in from the outset.
Whilst Barca's busy upcoming schedule justifies Valverde's rotation to a degree, the changes also took away a significant amount of the champions' trademark cohesion and seamless style of attacking play. Barça appeared more disjointed and overly dependent on individual quality as a result.
Lionel Messi cut an unusually frustrated figure throughout the game as the Argentine legend struggled to gain his usual offensive foothold in the game. As with the rest of his side, Messi showed fleeting moments of promise, but was unable to deliver his usual top level of quality.
Starting XI: ter Stegen (6); Roberto (6), Pique (7), Vermaelen (6), Alba (6); Vidal (6), Busquets (7), Alena (6); Messi (7), Boateng (5), Dembele (8*)
Substitutes: Suarez (5), Coutinho (6), Rakitic (6)
Star Man - Ousmane Dembele
With Barcelona lacking their usual creativity in the middle of the park and Kevin-Prince Boateng failing to match Luis Suarez's level of sharpness in the centre of attack, Ousmane Dembele assumed the responsibility of taking the game to Valladolid.
The Frenchman's willingness to run directly at the opposing defence and take players on is not traditionally aligned with Barca's famed tiki-taka style, but an approach which gets the best out of Valverde's revised approach to attacking play at Camp Nou.
You don't need too much sense to see how much more improved Barça's attack is with Ousmane Dembele.— broda Wale (@TheWaleAgbede) February 16, 2019
Many of Valverde's changes in selection did not pay off on Saturday night, but Dembele's inclusion ahead of Philippe Coutinho on the left flank provided Barca with an extra dimension of pace and natural width in their frontline.
Starting XI: Masip (7), Moreno (6), Kiko (6), Calero (6); Angulo (6), Tuhami (6), Michel (7), Nacho (6); Verde (7), Unal (6), Guardiola (7)
Substitutes: Suarez (N/A), Plaza (6), Mauri (5)
Barcelona face a tough week ahead, as Valverde's side travel to face Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie on Wednesday, before returning to La Liga action next Saturday away to Sevilla.