Carles Alena scores, Arturo Vidal dominates as Barca beat Alaves, inch closer to title
Barcelona are just one victory away from their eighth La Liga title in the last 11 years after winning 2-0 away at Alaves on Tuesday.
Barca could be seal the title as early Wednesday if Atletico Madrid lose to Valencia. If not, they could be crowned champions by beating Levante at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Given there's a Champions League semifinal against Liverpool around the corner, coach Ernesto Valverde will be especially pleased with how his side kept their league campaign on track without the need to get out of second gear. Ivan Rakitic was left back in Barcelona, while Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba only came on in the final half an hour. This was everything Valverde would have hoped for: three points, some fresh legs and no new injury problems
There was also a big performance from academy graduate Alena in midfield. He's done well despite his limited minutes this season but was poor in his last start away at Huesca. The same can't be said about his showing in Vitoria. Adventurous with his passes, tenacious with his tackling and grabbing the opening goal to boot.
Not everyone is in blistering form going into the final phase of the season. Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti both showed rustiness as they continue to work their way back from recent injuries. That said, more minutes on the pitch will have done them both the world of good.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Valverde's changes to the XI were subtle, allowing Barca to keep their rhythm while also giving a break to some of their regulars.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Only had routine saves to make but was once again the starting point for all of Barca's attacks with his feet.
DF Nelson Semedo, 6 -- A subdued performance by his recent standards. Will hope it doesn't cost him his place for the games against Liverpool.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Started the move which led to Alena's goal by stepping forward and winning the ball. Took the initiative all night as his impressive season continued.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 -- Had a couple of dodgy moments in the first half, perhaps as a consequence of a lack of regular football since coming back from a knee problem -- or maybe a shortage of confidence. Improved after the break.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- Started the game at left-back and finished it at right-back, where he set up the opening goal for Alena.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- A quiet evening by his standards as Alaves didn't demand too much from him on a defensive level.
MF Arturo Vidal, 7 -- More than just a battler. Was perhaps Barca's best player in the first half, getting on the ball and probing as the Blaugrana dominated possession.
MF Carles Alena, 8 -- Another performance which shows he does have a future with the first team. Took risks on the ball and took his goal really well as Barca finally broke down Alaves' deep block.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 6 -- A couple of dangerous runs showed glimpses of the pre-injury Dembele but he's still short of the heights he hit earlier in the season. Lacking a little bit of efficiency in the final third.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- Fired two good chances at the goalkeeper in the first half but kept making intelligent runs. Produced a nice dummy in the build-up to Alena's goal and then rattled home his 21st league goal of the season from the penalty shot.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- A great first half saw him set up chances for Suarez and have a number of his own shots blocked. However, he dipped after the break.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 -- Brought on for the final half an hour despite Barca leading 2-0. Came close to scoring and set up a good chance for Coutinho despite his limited minutes on the pitch.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Like Messi, given some minutes in the second half, coming on for Semedo for the last 20.
MF Arthur, N/R -- Came on for the final few minutes in place of goalscorer Alena.