Jordi Alba, Lionel Messi earn top marks as Barcelona end 2018 on winning note vs. Celta Vigo
BARCELONA, Spain -- Goals from Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi helped Barcelona end the calendar year with a comfortable 2-0 win over Celta Vigo at Camp Nou.
Dembele opened the scoring early in the first half from close range before Messi added the second just before the break after a brilliant pass from Jordi Alba. The win restored Barca's three-point lead at the top of La Liga going into the winter break.
In Messi and Dembele (and Suarez), Barca have the league's best attack. No one has scored more than Messi in Spain and Dembele continues to grow into his role in the side. However, the big positive for Barca was Alba. The left-back is as much a left-back as he is a left-winger at times. He played a part in both of the goals and his passing and vision was sublime throughout.
If coach Ernesto Valverde is being fussy, he may complain that his side took their foot off the gas in the second half as there could have been more goals in it. This, though, especially in the opening period, was as well-rounded a performance as Barca have offered this season.
Manager Rating out of 10
7 -- Valverde has now picked the same side in two of the last three league games. He only changed things in the other game because of an injury to Nelson Semedo. At the moment he's opting for Arturo Vidal and Dembele over Arthur and Philippe Coutinho. The competition looks to be benefitting Barca.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 7 -- Made a good save from Maxi Gomez in the first half and somehow clawed the ball off his line following a goalmouth scramble in the second half on his way to a fourth consecutive clean sheet in La Liga.
DF Nelson Semedo, 7 -- Returned from the knee injury which kept him out of the win over Levante and kept up his good recent form. Offering more and more in attack all the time and only Ruben Blanco's fingertips prevented him from scoring here.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Another solid display to keep out Iago Aspas and Gomez, two of the league's top scorers.
DF Clement Lenglet, 7 -- The Frenchman's performances have meant that the injured Samuel Umtiti has not been missed. When Umtiti does return, he's not guaranteed to have a place in the team anymore.
DF Jordi Alba, 9 -- Brilliant performance with a portfolio of passing fit for any playmaker in the world. Involved in the build-up to the first goal and set up Messi's goal with a fine assist. Would have had another assist, too, if Suarez had brought his shooting boots.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Strolled through much of the game, especially once Aspas departed injured. His range of passing has been more adventurous in recent weeks.
MF Arturo Vidal, 6 -- An energetic performance ended on the hour mark. Has earned his place in recent weeks but may need to add a little more to ensure he doesn't lose it in the New Year.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Does the things you don't always notice well. Another assured display in that sense, but Valverde will have to keep an eye on how many minutes he's clocking up when La Liga returns after the holidays.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Has been insatiable this month. His shot led to Dembele's goal, before he added Barca's second himself. Has scored six goals in his last three league games, but it's his work from deeper which is really defining his performances.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- Lively throughout but was off-colour in front of goal. Alba's brilliant second-half pass deserved a goal, but Suarez dragged wide.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 7 -- The Frenchman's keeping Coutinho on the bench so he must be doing something right. Has now had a direct hand in 10 league goals this season (seven goals, three assists) and has netted in four of his last six top-flight appearances in Spain. Was sensational in the opening 20 minutes.
MF Arthur, 6 -- Valverde is easing the Brazilian back into action after a recent injury.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Barca's club-record signing can't buy a start at the moment. Found himself on the bench for a third league game in a row, coming on for the final 20 minutes.
MF Carles Alena, N/R -- Came on for the final four minutes in place of Busquets.