Elche 0-2 Barcelona: De Jong keeps Koeman's men in title hunt

By Sports Desk January 24, 2021

Frenkie de Jong played a prominent role as Barcelona beat LaLiga strugglers Elche 2-0 to stay in touch with the leading pack.

Lionel Messi completed his two-match suspension for a red card during the Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao and Barca struggled to create clear chances in his absence against well-organised opponents.

But an error from Diego Gonzalez allowed De Jong to take advantage in the 39th-minute – the Netherlands international unlikely to score an easier one than his fifth LaLiga goal.

A minute from time, De Jong then turned provider as he crossed for Riqui Puig to head home, ensuring Barca are three points behind Real Madrid, although they will be 10 points shy of Atletico Madrid again if the leaders are able to beat Valencia later on Sunday.

Related items

  • Zidane hopeful on Benzema availability for blockbuster Madrid derby Zidane hopeful on Benzema availability for blockbuster Madrid derby

    Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is hopeful his leading marksman Karim Benzema will be available to return from injury in Sunday's huge LaLiga derby against leaders Atletico Madrid.

    Benzema is Madrid's top-scorer this season with 17 goals in all competitions but has missed their past three games due to an unspecified knock.

    The France international's finishing touch was missed in Monday's 1-1 draw with Real Sociedad, which leaves third-placed Los Blancos five points behind Atletico having played a game more.

    "We hope he can be with us, but we have to wait and see because he still hasn't trained with the team," Zidane said.

    "We'll assess the situation tomorrow. He's OK. Karim's injury is much better and we'll take a look at him."

    In Benzema's absence, Madrid have collected two 1-0 wins plus the 1-1 draw with Sociedad, so his attacking prowess has been missed.

    Highly rated 20-year-old Brazilian winger Vinicius Junior came off the bench to rescue a point for Zidane's side against Sociedad, scoring in the 89th minute for his third league goal of the campaign.

    "I’m pleased he got the goal," Zidane said.

    "We picked up a point and now we have to move on. It's the result of his hard work and effort. That's what we all have to keep doing."

    Zidane remains bullish about Madrid's title hopes, with Atletico having stumbled in recent matches, collecting eight points from a possible 15, while they were also beaten by Chelsea in the Champions League last week.

    Barcelona moved past Madrid into second with their 2-0 win at Sevilla on Saturday.

  • Zidane accepts half-time changes may have cost Real Madrid Zidane accepts half-time changes may have cost Real Madrid

    Zinedine Zidane held his hands up and accepted his half-time tinkering may have cost Real Madrid in their 1-1 draw at home to Real Sociedad on Monday. 

    Madrid were the more threatening of the teams in the first half at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with Mariano Diaz hitting the crossbar from close range in a lucky escape for the visitors. 

    But, seemingly unhappy with his team's performance, Zidane altered his setup at the interval to go with a back three, only for Portu to ghost in at the back post to head in a Nacho Monreal cross in the 55th minute. 

    Zidane reverted to a back four soon after and eventually Madrid got their equaliser in the 89th minute through substitute Vinicius Junior. 

    But the Frenchman seemingly felt his half-time changes may have backfired. 

    Speaking to reporters after the game, Zidane said: "I changed it [at half-time] because I wasn't happy with our pressing. 

    "It was those 10-15 minutes and we changed it again and we were better playing a 4-3-3. Our substitutes did well after coming on." 

    Zidane was then asked again if he felt he made a mistake with his initial tweaks, to which he replied: "If you've asked me, and that's now three times, then yes, maybe. 

    "We had to change things because, after an hour, the team was a bit tired. Sometimes we have to change things. In the end, you try to find things to change the dynamic." 

    While Vinicius' late equaliser likely prevented Madrid from suffering a massive psychological blow ahead of a potentially pivotal derby clash with Atletico Madrid at the weekend, in the grand scheme of the title race it did little to improve their standing. 

    Either way, the pressure on Madrid going into the weekend is greater than if they had beaten La Real, as they stay five points behind the leaders having played a game more, yet Zidane insists Monday's result changes nothing. 

    "We have to remain calm," Zidane added. "We had a good game and we had three or four chances [to score]. 

    "Patience, calm and rest. We were up against a team that creates chances against you. We have to carry on. 

    "It doesn't change the way we go into the derby. We have to go there to have a great game." 

  • Kane or Haaland could solve Man Utd's central striker dilemma – Hughes Kane or Haaland could solve Man Utd's central striker dilemma – Hughes

    Manchester United should target Harry Kane or Erling Haaland to fill their central striking berth, according to club great Mark Hughes. 

    United are the Premier League's top scorers this season with 53 goals, but they have struggled to break down the defences of some of the competition's best sides. 

    The Red Devils' 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday was the fourth consecutive goalless draw they have played out against other "big six" opposition, while they have not scored in any of their past six meetings with these teams.

    Edinson Cavani was brought in on a free transfer earlier in the season and has largely impressed in the central position up front, but the Uruguay international is 34 and not a viable long-term option. 

    Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood have all been tried in the middle of a front three this season, but Hughes – who enjoyed spells at Old Trafford between 1980-1986 and 1988-1995 – is not convinced any of them are entirely comfortable there. 

    And he thinks Tottenham's Kane and Borussia Dortmund's Haaland are the calibre of player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should set his sights on. 

    "I've seen United lots and they have good quality at the top end of the pitch. Rashford and Greenwood are highly thought of," he told Sky Sports.

    "For me, they needed the Cavani of five years ago when he was in his pomp; they've probably got him at the wrong time. 

    "He's still an outstanding centre forward. When I see him in this team, I just think he gives them a bit more focus. He gives them the confidence to play it into his feet and things happen around him. 

    "With Martial as well, they [him, Rashford and Greenwood] all want to play in any position other than down the middle. Rashford prefers to be on the left-hand side, Martial prefers to be on the left. Greenwood prefers the right-hand side. 

    "They've all been tried down the middle but you sense not one of them wants to be there. So, they need to get someone with the quality to play down the middle and give them that focus."

    Asked if Kane or Haaland were the answer to United's problem in that position, Hughes responded: "They're the type of player they need to be in the market for. 

    "How accessible or how much ability United will have in the transfer market to get those players, who knows, because there are a lot of clubs that would covet them."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.