Robert Lewandowski’s lethal finish sent Barcelona provisionally top of La Liga with a tight 1-0 win at Real Mallorca on Saturday.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept a fifth consecutive clean sheet in the top-flight and, along with Lewandowski’s brilliantly taken strike in the 20th minute, it was enough to put Barcelona one point clear of Real Madrid, who host Osasuna on Sunday.
With a tightened defence and Lewandowski in supreme form up front, Xavi Hernandez’s side are ironing out the creases which caused it so many problems last season.
Xavi deployed young left-back Alejandro Balde out of position on the right side of his defence because of injuries to Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde and Hector Bellerin, and brought Ansu Fati into the starting line-up.
It was the 19-year-old’s first start in La Liga since November 2021, after a string of injury problems, and his burst forward contributed to Barcelona’s opening goal.
The winger, left out of Luis Enrique’s most recent Spain squad and desperate to impress to try and get the call-up for the World Cup, fed Lewandowski, who cut inside and finished clinically after 20 minutes.
The Poland forward, the division’s top goalscorer, netted his ninth league goal with a perfectly-placed, curling finish into the bottom-right corner, through a gap that only he could see.
Mallorca should have levelled 15 minutes later but Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a superb save to deny Jaume Costa from close range.
Barcelona struggled to create more openings and the game threatened to boil over, with Andreas Christensen, Gerard Pique and Franck Kessie all booked in a short spell before half-time, while Xavi’s assistant and brother, Oscar Hernandez, was shown a red card for apparent dissent.
Mallorca continued to frustrate the Catalans after the break, although Lewandowski nearly caught out goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic, chasing him down outside the box to try and win the ball back.
At the other end ter Stegen, who has started this season in top form after a disappointing campaign last time around, was called on again to tip away a cross-shot from Antonio Sanchez.
The German beat his own personal record in La Liga for minutes without conceding a goal, on the way to securing his sixth clean sheet in seven league games.
Pedri’s introduction from the bench brought some calm back to Barcelona’s game in the final 20 minutes and helped it keep the stubborn hosts at arm’s length in the final stages.
Kang-in Lee sent a shot agonisingly wide of the far post as Mallorca tried to hit Barcelona on the counter, but Javier Aguirre’s side could not find a way through.
In previous seasons Barcelona might have caved, but Xavi’s side are starting to prove its fortitude.