Girona’s fairytale run has now gone on for long enough not to be called a flash in the pan.
This was after Real Madrid dropped points on Saturday, drawing 1-1 at Real Betis.
Barcelona came into the game knowing that defeat would put them seven points off top spot, and Xavi named an unchanged side from the one that beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 last weekend.
The midfield trio of Frenkie de Jong, Ilkay Gundogan and Pedri are all assets when in possession, and ran the show against Atletico. However, against a team like Girona, who are very quick on the transition, they seemed like passengers.
This was evident in the first goal, which came on 12 minutes. Right-back Yan Couto was allowed all the time in the world to pick a line-breaking pass to Viktor Tskigankov, who ran through before squaring it for his countryman Artem Dovbyk to finish.
Barcelona’s response was swift, and the equaliser came from a corner seven minutes later. Raphinha’s delivery was inviting, and Robert Lewandowski rose highest to score his first goal since November.
Girona’s wing-backs were really hurting the home side, and Miguel Gutierrez on the left shot them a warning sign, shooting narrowly wide after breaking into the penalty area.
This was a warning that Barcelona did not heed, as Gutierrez was allowed to run unmarked into a similar area just a couple of minutes later, and this time the former Real Madrid man cannoned his finish into the top corner.
The Blaugrana were creating openings but couldn’t take advantage of them. Raphinha missed the chance to be through on goal courtesy of a bad touch, while Joao Cancelo chose to take a shot from a tight angle with two men waiting unmarked for a cut-back.
Xavi pulled out all the stops in the second half, switching his formation and bringing on Alex Balde, Lamine Yamal, Ferran Torres and Fermin Lopez.
It was the Girona substitutes that made the impact with 10 minutes to play. A long ball forward was won by Christian Stuani, and Valery beat Jules Kounde before finishing past Inaki Pena in the Barcelona goal.
The hosts set up a grandstand finish when Gundogan scored with a fine turn and finish in the second minute of injury-time. Stuani had the final say, scoring the last goal of the game with seconds to play and sealing a well-deserved victory for his side.
Girona have 41 points from their 16 games and are two points ahead of Madrid in second. Atletico aren’t too far behind, with 34 points from 15 games. Barcelona have 34 points from 16 games.
The La Liga title race has a refreshing feel to it this season, as Girona can be considered serious challengers.
With over half the campaign to play, plenty of things could go wrong, but there is no doubt that the Gironistes are top on merit.
Playing an adventurous, attacking style of football, Michel has brought together a group of elite technicians who are masters at finding and exploiting space.
Not only are Girona achieving heady heights, they are also entertaining to watch.
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