Barcelona started the season with a whimper as they were beaten 1-0 by a resolute Athletic Bilbao side at San Mames on Friday night.
Right from the get-go, Barcelona did not look up to their usual standards, with Athletic Bilbao taking the game to them. In fact, the La Liga champions had Marc-Andre ter Stegen to thank, with the German producing two fine saves to thwart Inaki Williams.
On the other end, Luis Suarez came the closest to scoring for Barcelona, with the woodwork denying him. To make matters worse, Suarez had to be taken off before half-time due to a calf injury. But, his replacement, Rafinha brought about an injection of energy that started to get some chances flowing in.
But, the deadlock breaking goal was nowhere to be found, until the 89th minute, when Aritz Aduriz produced a stunning acrobatic finish to condemn Barcelona to their first opening day defeat in over a decade. With the Catalans struggling once again in the absence of Lionel Messi, The Hard Tackle runs the rule over the underperformers from Friday.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 8/10
As has often been the case whenever Barcelona have been struggling, ter Stegen produced the goods at the back to keep his side in the game. Against Athletic Bilbao, ter Stegen was easily the standout player for the visitors, making two fine saves in the first half. Had little to do in the second half, and could not have done anything to deny Aritz Aduriz.
Nelson Semedo: 5/10
With Sergi Roberto set to be a part of the midfield options this season, this was Semedo’s chance to nail down his place as the right-back. But, he did exactly the opposite of that, looking suspect at the back while producing little of note going forward. Needs to improve considerably to have any future at Barcelona.
Gerard Pique: 6/10
Pique started the game in nervy fashion, with the pace of Inaki Williams leaving him a bit unsettled. But, once he found his feet, the Pique of last season was on show, with the veteran defender taking charge of things at the back. Not a great deal he could have done for Aduriz’s wonder goal.
Clement Lenglet: 6/10
The most solid of the defenders for Barcelona, Lenglet was assured with his positioning while looking comfortable on the ball. Did well to contain Williams after the Athletic Bilbao striker’s blistering start. Samuel Umtiti might find it tough to get back into the side.
Jordi Alba: 5/10
Ever since the final months of last season, Alba has been a shell of his domineering self and the same was prevalent against Athletic Bilbao. Struggled at the back, where he looked unsure of his positioning. Going forward, the Spaniard was far from his best, with the presence of Antoine Griezmann clearly putting him off. Cannot go on like this, with Junior Firpo now at the club.
Sergi Roberto: 5/10
True to his word, Valverde has begun the season with Roberto in midfield. But, the Spaniard did not do much to vindicate the faith the Barcelona boss put in him. While Roberto grafted along all through the game, he contributed very little to the proceedings and will need to do better to be a regular in midfield.
Frenkie de Jong: 6/10
Making his competitive debut for Barcelona, de Jong was the best of the midfielders on show from Barcelona. But, the Dutchman was nowhere near the levels he produced last season, indicating that it would perhaps take him a bit longer to hit his stride completely. Still, there were a few notable moments on the ball, which would be promising.
Carles Alena: 5/10
A surprise starter in midfield ahead of Ivan Rakitic, Alena ought to have brought with himself a burst of energy that Barcelona needed. But, apart from a few dangerous passes, the youngster did not manage to get himself into the game and will need to improve a lot to keep hold of his place once Arthur returns.
Antoine Griezmann: 4/10
On debut for Barcelona, much was expected from Griezmann, especially with Lionel Messi not playing the game. But, the Frenchman was anonymous for large parts of the game and was unable to make his mark, bar a couple of half-chances. Barely got in on the act in the second half. A whimper of a debut.
Luis Suarez: 6/10
Suarez seemed to be in the mood, looking quite dangerous in the early exchanges and even coming the close to scoring. Had to be taken off in the 36th minute, and his calf injury will be quite a concern for Barcelona fans, especially seeing as his chance was the closest the visitors came to scoring against Bilbao.
Ousmane Dembele: 5/10
With Messi out injured, this was the opportunity that Dembele needed to prove that he can be an important player this season. But, the Frenchman, like compatriot Griezmann, almost always remained on the fringes of the game, failing to leave his stamp on the game. A missed chance.
On for Suarez, Rafinha posed the biggest threat for Barcelona, with his energetic outlet giving Barcelona a look-in on the odd occasion. Like Suarez, he was denied by the woodwork, but he will feel he might have done enough to get a look-in next time around.
? | #AthleticBarca | Rafinha stats against Athletic:
4 Shots (1 woodwork)
92 % pass accuracy
3 Key passes
1 Big chance created
2 Long balls completed
2 Duels won
2 Fouls won
2 dribbles completed
Best Barca player on the pitch tonight. pic.twitter.com/wvxmSrmRGw
— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) August 16, 2019
Ivan Rakitic: 6/10
Replacing Alena, Rakitic’s presence gave Barcelona a sense of control in the middle of the park. But, while he was an assured presence in midfield, he could not add some much needed creativity. A mixed bag of a performance.
Carles Perez: N/A
On for the final 15 minutes, Perez did not do much of note. But, with Philippe Coutinho gone, we might see much more of the youngster this season.
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