Xavi and Busquets laud Aubameyang after Barcelona hat-trick

By Sports Desk February 20, 2022

Xavi and Sergio Busquets hailed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after the former Arsenal man netted a hat-trick in Barcelona's 4-1 hammering of Valencia.

The Gabon striker netted either side of Frenkie De Jong's tap-in to give Barca a 3-0 half-time lead, before completing his treble in bizarre circumstances on the hour-mark, after Carlos Soler had pulled one back for Valencia.

Barcelona's fourth goal of Sunday's LaLiga contest was originally credited to Pedri, but has since been awarded to the 32-year-old, who got the slightest of touches on the youngster's long-range effort.

It was the first time Aubameyang, who was making his first LaLiga start, has scored multiple goals in a league game since he helped himself to a hat-trick for Arsenal against Leeds United 12 months ago, and Xavi was thrilled with the forward's contribution.

"He has scored goals his entire career," he said. 

"It was to be expected that he would score here soon too. He goes very well to [find] space, he is mature, he is very intelligent.

"I am delighted with him. These goals will be very good for him."

Aubameyang's opening goal made him just the fourth player to score in the Spanish, English, German, and French top flights this century, after Stevan Jovetic, Michy Batshuayi, and James Rodriguez, while the striker also became the first Gabonese player to net in LaLiga.

 

Barca captain Busquets was equally effusive in his praise for his new team-mate.

"He is working very well, he arrived with a lack of minutes, but he is getting them [now]. He is a great player and it is a luxury to have him in the squad, [especially] after arriving for free," Busquets said.

"Without Aubameyang's help, perhaps the goalkeeper would have been able to stop it [Barcelona's fourth goal]."

Although Pedri saw the final goal of the match taken away from him, the quality of his initial strike did not go unnoticed by Xavi, who said the midfielder is amongst the most talented players in world football.

"He is superlative," the Barca boss said. "At that level of talent, there is no other [player] in the world like Pedri, and he is only 19 years old.

"We ask him to shoot [more often]. We demand it, he has a good shot. He is very young and shy, but not everyone has the skills he has."

Barcelona moved into LaLiga's top four with the win, scoring four or more goals in a single away league game against Valencia for the first time since December 1993.

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    Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid last year came as something of a surprise to most.

    While the job he'd done at Everton was generally seen as fine, there was nothing about his time at Goodison Park that suggested the Italian would be back at the top of the game in his next job.

    His appointment at the Santiago Bernabeu could've almost been interpreted as a pointed dig at Clasico rivals Barcelona, where managerial hirings tend to be based around 'philosophy' – few could say that about Ancelotti, a coach arguably regarded more for his motivational skills, tactical flexibility and winning than for sticking to one defined brand of football.

    Regardless of how surprising Ancelotti's return was, he certainly got the job done. Madrid looked certainties for the title virtually all season and pulled off great escape after great escape to eventually win the Champions League, traversing one of the toughest routes to European Cup glory ever seen.

    But let's not forget, Ancelotti's won the Champions League with Madrid before. Last time, in 2014, he lasted only another year and a day before he was discarded.

    From Milan dynasty to short-term guarantee

    Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock, given many of the clubs he's coached have been among the biggest – and that usually means impatient by extension – teams in Europe, but Ancelotti hasn't been in charge of a single club for more than two consecutive full seasons since leaving Milan in May 2009.

    Granted, his spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Everton ended essentially because Madrid came calling, so who's to say how long he'd have been in charge. But clearly there has been a pattern in his working life since Milan.

    Ancelotti will be acutely aware of the expectations upon him at Madrid as he's lived through them before and paid the price for failing to achieve his targets.

    But you have to wonder if anything will be different this time around.

    Ancelotti's dismissal in 2015 came down to the fact Madrid didn't win a (major) trophy in the 2014-15 season. Florentino Perez's decision at the time wasn't universally popular, though no one would've been surprised.

    In the culture created by Perez at the club, a lack of success simply equates to failure, and clearly even the good will attained by winning La Decima – Madrid's 10th European crown – only lasts you so long.

    Perez's statement to the media even seemed to admit there being a degree of not knowing what else to do, as he said: "It was a very difficult decision to make; the demands at this club are the utmost because Madrid always wants to win silverware.

    "The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him. What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know. The demands here at Real Madrid are very high."

    Essentially, since his Milan days, Ancelotti has been brought in by teams to achieve success quickly and, for the most part, he's done that almost everywhere he's been – but long-term success in one place has eluded him.

    Presumably then, Ancelotti will have to again win at least one of LaLiga or the Champions League to stick around for a third season. That stands to reason at Real Madrid, and there's no reason they would be considered incapable on either front, but expecting everything to fall into place like last season is asking for trouble.

    Tempting fate?

    Who's to say Madrid won't cruise to the title again with Karim Benzema conquering every team in his path? It's entirely possible.

    The key differences this time around are the fact Madrid are heading into the season without a defined back-up striker for Benzema, and Barcelona have strengthened significantly.

    Firstly on Barca, if we assume they are able to register all of their new signings in time for the season's start, they'll have bolstered a team that finished the 2021-22 season very well. In fact, since the start of 2022, their 45 points was more than any other LaLiga team.

    Granted, Madrid played one game less (19), but if they had contested a 20th match and won it, they'd still have been two points shy of Barca.

    The change inspired by Xavi cannot be overstated and, as much of a mess as the club is off the pitch, there's every reason to expect them to be a force on it this season.

    For Madrid and Ancelotti, again their hopes will be pinned on Benzema. Of course, on the face of it that's not an issue. He's scored at least 21 league goals in each of the past four seasons and never made fewer than 27 top-flight appearances for Los Blancos.

    As a difference-maker and consistent presence, he's their Mr Reliable. But what if he does pick up a major injury: who will Madrid rely on to fill the Benzema void?

    Vinicius Junior enjoyed a remarkable season but wouldn't be suited to the Benzema role, stylistically or as a leader. Again, when Eden Hazard is fit, he is not a central striker, while Mariano Diaz has started just 11 league games in four seasons.

    Madrid's decision to get rid of Luka Jovic was probably the right one given how underwhelming the Serbian had been, and there's no guarantee anyone else brought in as a backup would've been more effective.

    But it does seem an unnecessary risk for a club like Madrid to go into a season without a second striker – or without a second striker who's got a better track record than Diaz. That's the decision Florentino Perez has reportedly made.

    Even if they were granted special dispensation to sign another LaLiga-based striker out of the transfer window, mid-season integration for that player would be tough in every way.

    Yes, yes, yes, it's all hypothetical and no one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but surely it's better to plan for that possibility than to leave it to chance? Perhaps Ancelotti has a master backup plan hidden up his sleeve in the event of losing Benzema for a while – we'll only find out if it happens.

    But if it does and his answer is to rely on Diaz, there's little hope of Ancelotti reaching that elusive third season.

  • Rumour Has It: Chelsea prepare to swoop for Barcelona's De Jong and Aubameyang Rumour Has It: Chelsea prepare to swoop for Barcelona's De Jong and Aubameyang

    Chelsea are ready to make a splash in the transfer market with a series of signings on the cards.

    The Blues have been heavily linked with Leicester City's Wesley Fofana as they seek replacements for the departed Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen in defence.

    Chelsea are understood to be keen to bolster their forward options too, with Romelu Lukaku exiting for Inter.

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    Chelsea are all set to sign Barcelona pair Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should the Catalans permit the duo to exit the club, reports Sky Sports.

    Manchester United have been involved in a drawn-out saga for De Jong this off-season, with the Dutchman reluctant to leave but the Blues are ready to match their £72million (€85m) bid, plus offer Champions League football.

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    – ESPN claims that Barcelona's off-season signings Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie could leave the Blaugrana for free if the club cannot register them due to LaLiga financial fair play rules in time for Saturday's league opener. Barca defender Gerard Pique has offered to play for free to help register the new players, according to AS.

    – The Mail reports that Manchester City are set to finalise an £11m deal for 21-year-old Spanish left-back Sergio Gomez from Anderlecht on Thursday. Fabrizio Romano claims he may be loaned out to Girona.

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    David Alaba put Madrid ahead in the first half at Helsinki Olympic Stadium, before Karim Benzema netted midway through the second half to put the result to bed.

    In the process, Benzema became Madrid's outright second-highest goalscorer, having scored 324 times for Los Blancos.

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    "I think we improved from the last game [a 6-1 defeat to Bayern Munich], but you can't give Madrid two chances," Glasner told a news conference.

    "The team did it well most of the time. After that, it was difficult and, in the end, Real Madrid was the better team and they deserved the win."

    He added: "I think you could see we had defensive stability for many periods today. The last ball, the last pass, did not come enough.

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