It was another frustrating evening for Barcelona, as they left it late before holding Athletic Bilbao to a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou on Saturday.
Ernesto Valverde stunned the Barcelona faithfuls as he named Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets on the bench. The duo’s presence was not felt dearly in the early stages, but it soon became clear that the hosts were lacking the cutting edge in the final third.
Athletic Bilbao, on the other hand, actively took the game to their more illustrious hosts, and duly grabbed the opening goal of the match as Oscar de Marcos turned in Markel Susaeta’s long pass with a first-time shot. The game continued in the same fashion, with the frustrations increasing for Barcelona.
Lionel Messi’s introduction in the 55th minute though, was a major turning point as the Blaugrana assumed total control of the proceedings. But, the woodwork came between Barcelona and an equaliser a number of times, and it looked like the game would amble on towards the full-time whistle with a narrow scoreline in favour of Bilbao.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 29, 2018
Messi though, had other plans as he created a fantastic opportunity for Munir El Haddadi to score from, all on his own, and finally put Barcelona on level terms with the Basque side. But, after they dropped points in the third successive games, The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 6/10
Another game, another instance when the defensive shortcomings deprived ter Stegen of a clean sheet. The German goalkeeper was solid enough on the day, although he was largely restricted to the clean up job and distribution of the ball. But, he couldn’t have done anything about Bilbao’s goal, with the shot by de Marcos being well timed as well.
Nelson Semedo: 7/10
A game that could prove to be the making of Semedo at Barcelona. The Portuguese international was by far, the best Barcelona defender on show, with a recovery challenge on Inaki Williams being particularly eye catching. Was a potent outlet in the final third as well, although he still needs to put some work into his end product.
Gerard Pique: 6/10
Yet again, Pique played a part in Barcelona’s shortcomings at the back. While the veteran defender was solid for large parts of the game, he was guilty of playing de Marcos onside when the rest of the backline was at least five yards ahead. Williams asked questions of Pique with his pacy outlet as well.
Clement Lenglet: 6/10
Lenglet was much improved in his second start in a Barcelona shirt, with his full debut last week ending with a first half dismissal. The Frenchman had very few nervy moments at the back, and was tidy and composed on the ball. The early signs point towards Lenglet being an able deputy to the injured Samuel Umtiti for the foreseeable future.
Jordi Alba: 5/10
Alba was far from his best on Saturday, with his usual mazy runs and precise delivery nowhere to be seen till Messi was introduced. Also nowhere to be seen, was the player himself as de Marcos appeared in the Barcelona box to score the opening goal of the match. It has been a tough start to the season for Alba, who needs to make major improvements going forward.
Arturo Vidal: 6.5/10
A performance that would give Ernesto Valverde some food for thought. Vidal was a solid customer for the most part on Sunday, contributing on both ends of the pitch. A dissected pass towards Luis Suarez deserved a goal while a brilliant challenge on Inaki Williams kept the scores level at the time. Sacrificed for Messi, but the Chilean has surely made a point.
Ivan Rakitic: 3/10
Ever since Ernesto Valverde took charge of Barcelona, Ivan Rakitic has been ever present, when fit. Perhaps, it’s time that changed, with the Croat producing another forgettable performance. Rakitic was supposed to provide control in midfield, but the energetic Bilbao midfield often overran him.
The 30-year-old was poor on the ball as well, as he misplaced a number of simple passes. Had a golden opportunity to seal all three points late in the game, but he fluffed his lines, skying his effort.
Sergi Roberto: 5/10
Roberto has been quite an asset for Barcelona with his versatility. But, on Saturday, one pitfall of this quality was exposed, as Roberto was hugely lacking in positional awareness. The Spanish international also failed to mark de Marcos for his goal. Forced off with an injury early in the second half, Roberto will look to put this outing behind him and get back to his consistent best.
Ousmane Dembele: 5/10
Dembele just hasn’t looked himself lately. And, for the fourth game in a row, the Frenchman was found wanting on multiple accounts. Starting on the right flank against Bilbao, Dembele did not create many meaningful chances and was sloppy in possession at times. A rest would not hurt him much, although it is unlikely to be afforded to him in the midweek Champions League game.
Luis Suarez: 5.5/10
It was a frustrating evening for Suarez, when nothing he did appeared to be bringing him closer to the elusive goal. But, he definitely should have done better when fed by Vidal, as he shot straight at Unai Simon instead of asking tougher questions from him. Will look to put this outing behind him as an anomaly.
The best of the lot for Barcelona, among those who started the game. Coutinho was quite easily the most potent threat for the La Liga champions, often finding teammates in open spaces while also coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions, only to be denied by the woodwork. The only thing lacking for the Brazilian is consistency.
Sergio Busquets: 6/10
Replaced the injured Busquets and immediately brought about a sense of calm in the middle of the park. As always, the 30-year-old controlled the tempo of the game beautifully, and the slight resting period seems to have rejuvenated him.
Lionel Messi: 8/10
❗Lionel Messi only played 35 minutes, which was enough to become man of the match by preventing Barça from losing. pic.twitter.com/NLrtifccHR
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) September 29, 2018
Barcelona’s talisman was so good in his near 40-minute cameo that he was named the man of the match on Saturday. Messi took five shots during his time on the pitch, one of which was a thumping effort that hit the woodwork.
He also made two key passes, and it became plainly clear as the match went on that a match defining moment will only be possible from Messi’s magic. In the end, it was the Argentine’s solo effort that created the chance that led to the equaliser, as Barcelona saved a point.
Munir El Haddadi: 6/10
On for Dembele, Munir was much improved in his short cameo on Saturday than against Leganes. Was in the right place at the right time as he scored his first competitive goal for Barcelona since March 2016.