Elche vs. Barcelona score: Frenkie de Jong lifts Barca, but team struggles without Messi

FC Barcelona earned all three points on Sunday without the suspended Lionel Messi as Frenkie de Jong’s goal lifted the club in a 2-0 win at Elche. Riqui Puig scored late to seal the result. Messi was serving the second game of his two-match suspension for violent conduct in the Spanish Super Cup final, and his team clearly missed him in a match they were lucky to win.

Here’s everything you need to know about the match:

No Messi, and it showed

No Messi meant next to no creativity for Barca. While the finishing in attack is still lacking, Ronald Koeman’s team did produce 15 shots, eight on goal and an expected goals of 2.54, but there is a deeper problem there. A total 0.97 of that expected goals rating came from de Jong’s goal, which was a tap in on a defensive mistake.

You take that chance out, and Barcelona did very, very little until they brought in Trincao and Riqui Puig. Both of the young talents helped late to put the game away, but the starting XI with Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann continues to not even come close to producing consistently. 

De Jong finding some form in terms of production

That is three goals in his last eight for the Dutchman after not scoring from mid-February to mid-December. He continues to push higher, both in the flow of match and positionally, moving to a more central midfield position than defensive midfielder. 

He will be crucial to the midfield stability, and he needs to take more chances to play balls into the box, but his production is a welcome sight for a club looking for somebody not named Messi to step up.

Barca needed this one

If Barca end up going, say, 12 points back of Atletico Madrid, then they are probably out of the title race. But at seven points away right now, they are still in position to contend. A couple more slip-ups against teams they should beat on paper will likely end any chance of winning the league, but with Messi back and a manageable schedule to come, keep an eye on them. Since Koeman took over, they haven’t shown much to convince anybody they can contend, but with some of the younger players stepping up, there is still a chance.

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