FC Barcelona took on the newly crowned Spanish Super Cup winners Athletic Bilbao in their first match of the 2015 La Liga season. The Treble winners finally defeated the Basque Country club after failing to do so in their last two meetings, both in the Spanish Super Cup.
Barca won the match 1-0 courtesy of a Luis Suarez’s volley. The effect of the introduction of most of the first team personnel was visible as Luis Enrique’s men looked much more improved than the side that crashed against the same opponents a few days earlier. Jordi Alba gave a decent assist to Suarez for the only goal scored today. The game, however, was overshadowed by injuries to the effervescent midfielder Sergio Busquets and right back Dani Alves.
Barcelona started the match with Thomas Vermaelen and Javier Mascherano as their central defensive pair in Gerard Pique’s absence, while Rafinha Alcantara occupied Neymar’s slot in the front three with Pedro joining Chelsea.
The match started with the usual pattern of Barca dominating the possession without actually showing any palpable attacking threat and the Blaugranes suffered an early blow as Dani Alves was forced out with an injury.
Barcelona continued to dominate the ball as Sergi Roberto came on to replace the injured Brazilian, the men in Red and Blue’s formation almost changed to a three men defense as Roberto moved towards the center on every opportunity.
The Basque country’s club was lucky to be not penalized for a penalty when Gorka Elustondo handballed Lionel Messi’s header inside the area. However, he was penalized for a foul on Suarez minutes after.
The penalty appeared to be a golden chance for the Blaugranes to take the lead in a match where all efforts of Barca appeared to be going into vain. Lionel Messi stepped onto take the penalty but his weak low shot was saved by Gorka Iraizoz. The Argentine opted for precision rather than power and that seemed to cost him his first goal of this year’s La Liga and Catalans golden chance of a breakthrough.
Widely heralded as the best player on the planet, Lionel Messi’s record from the spot kicks is not as expected.
Messi now missed 14 of his 63 penalties taken for Barca [22%] says @pedritonumeros
— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) August 23, 2015
Following the penalty, Luis Enrique’s men struggled to create any real chances of note, save for a mishit from Luis Suarez that rebounded only for Rafinha to shoot wide.
However, their game improved significantly in the second half as Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba combined well on the left flank and the two Spanish national team compatriots chemistry on the field led to the goal that Barcelona desperately needed.
‘El Illusionista’ found Jordi Alba down the left-wing, and the Spaniard picked out the unmarked Uruguayan perfectly with his first-time cross for the Barca number-9 to volley emphatically into the roof of the net. It was the goal that Suarez and the club probably needed to kick off their season as the treble winners have won the first game seven times now, consecutively.
The Catalans almost doubled their lead just three minutes after the match’s first goal when Roberto’s marauding run into the area saw him launch a venomous effort onto the crossbar.
However, Barcelona suffered their second blow of the day as defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets was stretchered off the field and Luis Enrique was visibly dejected to see another of his key player get injured in the season opener. Marc Bartra was sent in to replace the Spanish international as Mascherano moved forward to slot in the number 5’s position.
Athletic tried hard to score an equaliser, but some great defending from Vermaelen and a lack of ruthlessness in the final third ensured Barca held on to the lead. The man who won the Supercopa against the treble winners Aduriz was constantly troubled by Thomas Vermaelen in the whole match robbing him of a number of goals scoring opportunities and the Belgian international finished the game as one of the team’s best players.
Luis Enrique can look on to the positive side of Sergi Roberto’s game as the youngster was vibrant at the right back position and was also fancy with his footwork. So, if the Brazilian defender sits on the sidelines for a longer time, the young Spanish midfielder can be given the opportunity to fill the void which holds immense importance in the game structure of FC Barcelona.
Barca now take on Malaga in Camp Nou six days later, with Atletico Madrid also scheduled to face them in the third matchday of the Spanish league 2015. Though, Luis Enrique should give it a thought of giving Sergi Samper a break into the first team as the talented Spanish youngster is widely touted as ‘The Next Busquets’ among the Catalan club followers.