Ousmane Dembele scored and assisted three others as Barcelona warmed up for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich by thrashing Athletic Bilbao 4-0 at Camp Nou.
Xavi’s team raced into a three-goal lead before half-time in Thursday’s mauling of Villarreal and they repeated the trick on Sunday as Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski joined Dembele on the scoresheet within 22 minutes.
Having set up Roberto and Lewandowski, Dembele continued to terrorise Athletic after the break and helped Barca add some gloss when he teed up Ferran Torres for a neat finish late on.
The result moved Barca back to within three points of leaders Real Madrid in the LaLiga standings, with Los Blancos having moved clear with a 3-1 win over Sevilla on Saturday.
Dembele opened the scoring after 12 minutes, testing Unai Simon before nodding in Lewandowski’s cross after the striker had recycled the loose ball.
There was more fortune about Barca’s second, which arrived when Roberto’s shot deflected beyond Simon from a tight angle following Dembele’s throughball.
Dembele played a role again in Barca’s third as Athletic crumbled, driving inside from the right to feed Lewandowski, who swivelled and lashed into the roof of the net.
Barca suffered a blow when Gavi limped off following a collision with Dani Garcia before the break, but they almost scored a fourth when Garcia’s clearance hit Pedri and crashed against the post.
Dembele showcased his creative qualities once again when Barca completed the rout after 73 minutes, drilling a low cross into Torres, who shifted the ball to his right foot before finishing coolly.
What does it mean? Barca warm up in style
A Clasico defeat to Madrid and a return of just one point from two Champions League meetings with Inter piled the pressure on Xavi earlier this month, with the Barca boss admitting his job would be under threat if they did not respond.
The Blaugrana’s reaction could hardly have been more emphatic, with Barca inflicting heavy defeats on Villarreal and Athletic.
While Barca’s attackers stole the headlines, they have now kept six successive home clean sheets in LaLiga – their best run since a sequence of 12 under Pep Guardiola in 2011. Maintaining that defensive solidity will be crucial when Bayern visit Camp Nou next time out.
Dembele redemption continues
Dembele’s redemption at Camp Nou has been fascinating to watch. Deemed surplus to requirements as the cash-strapped Blaugrana attempted to raise funds as recently as January, the France international is now the creative fulcrum of Xavi’s new-look side.
The winger’s third assist of the match was also his fifth of the season in LaLiga – more than any other player in the competition, and he has now laid on six goals in eight league appearances against Athletic.
Unhappy return for Valverde
Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde led Barca to four trophies during a three-year stint with the club between 2017 and 2020, but his former side were in no mood to welcome him warmly on Sunday.
Valverde has now lost his last eight league games against Barcelona, his worst losing run against any opponent during his career in LaLiga, while Athletic have failed to win any of their last 21 league trips to Camp Nou (L18 D3).
Barcelona face Bayern in a huge Champions League contest on Wednesday, while Athletic host Villarreal in LaLiga on Sunday.