Scramble to sign Aubameyang starts to pay off for Barcelona

Toni Lato of Valencia CF competes for the ball with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of FC Barcelona during the La Liga Santander match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on February 20, 2022 in Valencia, Spain.

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

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 González also scored as Barcelona ended a two-game winless run in all competitions.

The result moved Xavi Hernández's team back into fourth place in the final Champions League qualification spot in the Spanish league. Defending champion Atlético 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 had struggled to capitalize on its chances against Napoli but was much more effective Sunday, scoring four times from six shots.

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 Páez.

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. The Gabon player had made his first start against Napoli after coming off the bench in the second half of league matches against Atlético and Espanyol.

He hadn’t been playing much but little by little he is gaining space in our team and hopefully he will keep helping us like he did today, Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets said. He is a great player and it’s a luxury to have him with us.

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

Later Sunday, third-place Real Betis can get within five points of rival Sevilla with a home win against relegation-threatened Mallorca. In the last match Sunday, eighth-place Athletic Bilbao hosts seventh-place Real Sociedad in the Basque Country derby.

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