Frenkie de Jong and Riqui Puig found the back of the net as Barcelona went third in La Liga with a comfortable 2-0 away win over Elche.
Lionel Messi missed out for the Catalans as he served the second of a two-match suspension for the red card picked up in the Spanish Supercopa defeat to Athletic Club, but Barca coped without their top scorer and main man.
Elche held their own for much of the first half, but buckled as Barca increased the pressure, with the opportunistic De Jong finishing on the goal line after a Martin Braithwaite cross was sent goalward by Diego Gonzalez.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen came to Barcelona’s rescue in the second half, denying Emiliano Rigoni after a mistake from Oscar Mingueza saw the Elche attacker run through on goal. The German goalkeeper saved with an outstretched leg.
Barcelona made sure of the three points late on as Riqui Puig came off the bench to head home a De Jong cross to the back post following an excellent surging run into the box by the Dutchman.
The result lifts Barcelona above Sevilla into third place in La Liga, three points behind rivals Real Madrid and seven points off the pace being set by leaders Atletico Madrid, who hold two games in hand.
Barcelona celebrate v Elche
Image credit: Getty Images
TALKING POINT - New advanced role is getting the best out of Frenkie de Jong
While he was never written off as a flop, De Jong suffered a difficult first season at Barcelona. He struggled to find his place alongside Sergio Busquets in the centre of midfield, leading many to suggest the pair couldn’t play in the same team. This season, though, has seen De Jong used in a more advanced position. This has seen the Dutchman raise his productivity in front of goal, already boasting five league goals for the campaign. He also contributed an excellent assist for Puig here. De Jong’s late runs into the box and willingness to get forward has been key in Barcelona’s recent uptick in form.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Pedri (Barcelona)
De Jong scored and was impressive throughout, but the majority of Barcelona’s attacking moves flowed through Pedri. With Messi out of the side through suspension, it was the teenage playmaker who took the creative burden on his shoulders. For someone so young, Pedri is a remarkably mature personality. It’s not just his talent that is eye-catching. He is already something of a leader for this Barca side. They needed him to spark the attack against Elche.
Elche: Badia 8, Barragan 5, Verdu 5, D. Gonzalez 4, Mojica 6, Josan 5, Marcone 5, R. Guti 6, Rodriguez 5, Boye 6, Rigoni 7. Subs: Nino 3, Luismi 3, Morente 3.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 8, Mingueza 4, Araujo 6, Umtiti 6, Alba 5, De Jong 8, Busquets 7, Pedri 8, Dembele 6, Griezmann 6, Braithwaite 6. Subs: Trincao 6, Puig 7.
40’ GOAL! Elche 0-1 Barcelona (Frenkie de Jong): Barcelona have taken the lead just four minutes before the break! Braithwaite played a dangerous cross to the back post, Griezmann looked set to finish it, but Gonzalez diverted the ball into the back of his own net! It might have been finished on the line by de Jong!
54’ Ter Stegen rescues Barca! The chance came out of nowhere, Rigoni was clean through on goal, he had time to pick his spot, but ter Stegen makes the crucial save to keep Barcelona ahead!
89’ GOAL! Elche 0-2 Barcelona (Riqui Puig): The points are now in the bag for Barcelona as they score a second goal! De Jong burst to the byline and clipped a cross to the back post where Puig was on hand to head into the back of the net! He's only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds!
- Frenkie de Jong has now scored more league goals for Barcelona this season (five) than he did for Ajax in four Eredivisie campaigns (four).