Barcelona extended their lead at the top of the La Liga table to 11 points thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Villarreal in one of the toughest away grounds at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
It makes it 16 games unbeaten in all competitions for the Blaugrana who have hit their best run of form since Xavi took over as coach last season. Their sixth straight league win in 2023 will leave them 11 points clear until Real Madrid play their game in hand, but Barcelona are looking very much like champions already.
Given most of those wins this year have come via a one-goal difference, the Culers have a lot to thank Pedri for after his third goal in the last five league games.
The 20-year-old midfield jewel had been constantly urged by his manager to shoot more and the advice is paying off as Pedri has scored a career-high six league goals already.
Against Villarreal, Xavi set up his team to suffocate their hosts with Jules Koundé filling in his usual role as an inverted right-back behind a left and right-wing pairing of Gavi and Raphinha who both prefer to cut inside on their natural sides.
With the width limited to left-back Alejandro Balde’s forward forays, Barcelona overloaded the central areas to constrict their opponents into surrendering possession and hitting them with lightning-quick breaks.
Pedri was indeed crucial as he consistently upped the ante in an incredibly congested central midfield.
The silky midfielder was playing as a classic Number 10 to connect the midfield to attack and make key passes as well as arrive in the box to score goals. Needless to say that he masterfully provided the finesse that customarily complements Gavi’s dogged determination.
Pedri’s technical superiority and ability to play in tight spaces allowed Barca to advance the ball effectively which has brought out exciting linkups between the youngster and Robert Lewandowski.
A deft give-and-go from the striker allowed Pedri to slip past two defenders and roll the ball past Pepe Reina for the most decisive moment of a competitive night. Pertinently, his six goals have won an astounding ten points for Barcelona – the most by any player in the 2022-23 season.
Xavi has fostered a strong synergy across Barcelona’s right channel with Raphinha and Koundé forming a solid wing duo with Pedri operating in-between them in the half-space. The aforementioned are also responsible for maintaining the balance of the team when the 20-year-old roams across the pitch in search of space.
While both sides frantically pressed in search of another goal, Barcelona met an inspired Reina between the Villarreal posts. However, huge credit must go to Ronald Araujo‘s monstrous defending on the night as his pace combined with perfectly timed last-ditch tackles was instrumental in the result.
Par for the course, Barcelona are a more compact unit as Xavi’s side have conceded just seven league goals with their only defeat coming to Real Madrid. This was also Barca’s seventh 1-0 win in 21 league games which equals their highest-ever total in a full season.
Considering their very strict backline, run of wins and Pedri’s decisive contributions in front of goal, their Europa League play-off first-leg against in-form Manchester United this week is a must-see.
Pedri’s dancing feet, silky passing and match-winning strikes could well provide the headlines once more.