Scramble to sign Aubameyang starts to pay off for Barcelona

AP , Sunday 20 Feb 2022

The last-minute scramble to secure the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has started to pay off for Barcelona.

Barcelona s Gabonese midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shoots the ball during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on February 20, 2022. AFP

Aubameyang scored his first two goals since joining from Arsenal at the end of the winter transfer window, leading the Catalan club to a resounding 4-1 win at Valencia in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Ousmane Dembele, whom Barcelona wanted to leave but ended staying after rejecting a couple of offers at the transfer deadline, made his first start since then and set up Frenkie de Jong's goal in the first half. Pedri Gonzalez also scored as Barcelona ended a two-game winless run in all competitions.

The result moved Xavi Hernandez's team back into fourth place in the final Champions League qualification spot in the Spanish league. Defending champion Atletico Madrid, which won 3-0 at Osasuna on Saturday, is fifth. Barcelona trails league leader Real Madrid by 15 points with a game in hand.

It was the fifth loss in the last seven league games for Valencia, which sits in 12th place. It is winless in seven straight matches in the competition.

Barcelona was coming off a 1-1 draw with Napoli in the first leg of the Europa League playoffs on Thursday. The five-time Champions League winner is back in the second tier of European soccer after failing to get past the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in nearly two decades.

Barcelona signed the 32-year-old Aubameyang after successfully turning in his documentation to the Spanish league in the last minute of the transfer deadline. He had made his first start in the draw against Napoli after coming off the bench in the second half of league matches against Atletico and Espanyol.

Aubameyang's first goal came when he calmly hit the upper corner in a one-on-one situation in the 23rd minute, and his second came from close range in the 38th after a pass by Gavi Paez.

De Jong had added to Barcelona's lead from inside the area by completing Dembele's right-flank pass in the 32nd, and Pedri sealed the victory with a long-range strike in the 63rd which ahd a slight deflection.

Valencia had pulled one closer in the 52nd with a header by Carlos Soler off Bryan Gil's cross.

Valencia, playing in the Copa del Rey semifinals this season, had two goals disallowed in the first half -- one by offside in the 26th and another in the 41st after video review determined the ball had gone across the sideline in the buildup.

Many of the nearly 40,000 Valencia fans at Mestalla Stadium again protested against Singaporean owner Peter Lim with banners that said ``Lim Go Home.''

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