A Lionel Messi-less Barcelona slogged their way to a 0-2 victory over Elche on Sunday afternoon at the Estadio Martinez Valero.
Following two straight matches in which they were forced to play extra time, a noticeably heavy-legged Barcelona did enough to claim the three points against an Elche side that mustered next to nothing in attack.
Frenkie de Jong scored from inches out in the first half before Riqui Puig put the victory on ice in the final minutes with his first goal with the Barcelona first team. Also chipping in was goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who made a top-notch save on Elche’s only real scoring threat of the day coming off a Barcelona defensive error.
With Messi out suspended, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite and Antoine Griezmann were called on to lead the attack, while in the back Samuel Umtiti came in for Clement Lenglet.
It was a sleepy start between the two teams with nothing in the way of chances. Barcelona’s tempo in the final third was way too slow, allowing Elche were easily able to thwart Koeman’s attack. Outside of a pair of probing efforts from Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, Elche goalkeeper Edgar Badia was left untroubled until the final minutes of the half when Barcelona struck for a 0-1 lead.
Elche defender Diego Gonzalez tried to cut off a deep cross from Braithwaite destined for Griezmann, only to see the ball spin toward net, and right as it was about to cross the line, De Jong swooped in to stab it home.
Elche did themselves few favours with their play going forward, but they were gifted a golden opportunity early in the second half when Oscar Mingueza was stripped by Emiliano Rigoni, who only had Ter Stegen to beat, but the Argentine was denied by the German stopper on a kick-save.
Badia was just as good at the other end a minute later when Dembele uncorked a left-footer that appeared goal-bound, with the Elche No.1 diving to parry it wide.
Barcelona were noticeably fatigued, but Koeman waited until the final quarter-hour before making his first change with Francisco Trincao replacing Dembele.
The Portuguese added a spark and was soon joined by Puig, who came on for Pedri and immediately made the most of his limited time. De Jong surged into the Elche box and floated a ball across that the rising Puig met with a header that he steered into net to earn Barcelona the 0-2 final scoreline.
0.- Elche: Badia; Josan, Barragan, Verdu, Diego Gonzalez, Mojica; Raul Guti (Tete Morente, min. 74), Marcone, Rigoni (Luismi, min. 75), Victor Rodriguez (Nino, min. 82), Lucas Boye.
2.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza, Araujo, Umtiti, Jordi Alba; Busquets, De Jong, Pedri (Riqui Puig, min. 87); Dembele (Trincao, min. 74), Braithwaite, Griezmann.
Goals: 0-1, min. 39: De Jong; 0-2, min. 89: Riqui Puig.
Referee: Pizarro Gomez (Madrid).
Yellow cards: Busquets (Min. 68) for Barcelona, Griezmann (Min. 84) for Barcelona.
Red cards: None.
Stadium: Martinez Valero.