Barcelona have begun the proceedings in La Liga by winning all the three points against tough opponents Athletic Bilbao.
Leaving the demons of the 4-0 Super Copa defeat behind, Barcelona travelled to San Mames and managed to win one of the toughest games they will play this season. Getting a positive start to the campaign is an essential component for Barcelonaa s title defence and having achieved it, the Catalans can breathe a sigh of relief. On the other hand, coming into this game after a midweek defeat in the Europa League qualifiers against MSK Zilina, Athletic Bilbao will be disappointed with the end result as the Basque side did all they could to avoid the defeat but failed to do so.
. Here are three talking points from the game
Thomas Vermaelen is finally proving his worth
Purchased last season from Arsenal, Vermaelen was definitely not expected to be a key component for Barcelonaa s success. The defender only featured in one league game last season and it was the last one at a time when Barcelona had already won the La Liga. The A?15 million signing was heavily criticized as the former Arsenal man spent most of his days nursing various injuries. But on Sunday, against Athletic Bilbao, Vermaelen finally proved his worth in a match where Barcelona needed him the most. With Pique and Mathieu both serving suspensions, Luis Enrique turned to Mascherano and Vermaelen to replace the centre-backs and the Belgian defender put in an impressive performance for the defending champions. Vermaelen was strong in the air and also made some precise tackles to deny the home side goal-scoring chances. A calm and composed performance from the former Arsenal man gave Barcelona much-needed solidarity at the back that they had been missing in this campaign so far.
Athletic Bilbao deserved more
Despite winning 4-0 the last time they faced Barcelona at home, Athletic were the underdogs on Sunday. However, the Basque side had a plan in place and were determined to not let the Barcelona attack run the kind of rampage they usually do. Bilbao put in a solid display and were hard to beat. Goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was especially good on the night and was unlucky to not finish the game with a clean sheet. The goal conceded by the home side was a brilliantly set up and finished and was nearly perfect. On another night, Bilbao might have done better as they put in mighty effort and determination but failed to deny Barcelona the three points.
Sergi Roberto and Lionel Messi bring in the surprise element
After Dani Alves came off injured early in the game, Luis Enrique threw in a surprise on the field. The manager introduced Roberto in the right of the defence to replace the injured Brazilian. The midfielder probably put in one of his best performance for Barcelona and had in a near-perfect day playing in the defence. It was a risky move from Luis Enrique but it paid massive dividends as we saw an energetic and almost perfect performance from Sergi Roberto.
On the other hand, it just wasna t the day for magician Lionel Messi. The Argentine, who is the front-runner to win the Ballon da Or this season, had an off-day as he missed an early chance to put Barcelona in front after his penalty was saved by Iraizoz. However, he did produce a brilliant run dribbling past the defenders in trademark Messi-style but the end result was a shot straight into the keepera s hand. Though Messi was definitely far from his worst, he was equally far from his best and had a rather forgettable night. Messi, who otherwise creates chances from absolutely nothing surprisingly failed to make much impact on the opening night.