Barcelona achieved an ugly, yet valuable 1-0 victory against Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames in Week 1 of La Liga. Did not get too involved, but contributed well with a couple of confident runs into space and when on the ball.. To make matters even worse, he’ll be disappointed after missing his 14th penalty in 63 attempts for the Blaugrana.
DF Javier Mascherano, 7 — Ensured Aduriz remained goalless, which is remarkable considering the striker’s recent record of four goals in their previous two meetings. 6 was visibly distressed after an unfortunate clash with Aritz Aduriz, having to be substituted after just 18 minutes on the park. Provided several fantastic crosses which his teammates should have converted. Despite only just managing with the physical demands of such a high-tempo contest after a 10-day absence, he found enough energy to provide Suarez with an inch-perfect cross after 54 minutes which unbalanced the game in the visitors’ favour.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 — Despite a couple of moments of brilliance, Messi generally struggled to hurt Athletic once again. Follow him on Twitter @TomasESPN.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 8 — Preferred to Marc Bartra as a replacement to the banned Gerard Pique, the Belgian international impressed with his impeccable positioning and emerging leadership. Despite being the target of endless aggressive challenges from the initial whistle, the No. Always eager to split Athletic’s centre-halves with his clever runs into space in order to create spaces for others to exploit, his energy and decisiveness upfront kept the Catalans in the game.
FW Rafinha, 5 — The La Masia graduate was included in the lineup in the absence of Neymar and the departed Pedro.
DF Marc Bartra, 6 — Substituted the injured Busquets after 68 minutes, slotting well at the heart of defence alongside the reborn Vermaelen.
After yet another high-tempo clash full of non-speculative football and countless borderline challenges, the champions will be delighted to walk away from the Basque Country with the three points under their belt thanks to a thundering volley by their ultra-competitive Uruguayan international.
FW Sandro Ramirez, NR — On for Rafinha after 82 minutes, provided much-needed energy from the Blaugranas’ left wing. Full of confidence, wrapped up his best ever first team performance by smashing a long-range shot in Iraizoz’s crossbar.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 — Ensured Barca walked away with the three points with a heartfelt volley that Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz could do nothing about. Luis Suarez scored the goal for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 66 percent of possession, created 10 goalscoring chances and attempted seven shots, four of them on target and one to the post. 8 kept asking questions of his rivals by mixing accurate passing with constant attempts to beat markers one-on-one.
After being humbled by Athletic in the Spanish Super Cup, Andres Iniesta and Barcelona turned the tables on the Basques with a 1-0 win on Sunday.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 — While his passing was not as accurate and effective as Cules have been used to in recent times, the Croatian international worked tirelessly in order to dismantle the Basques’ defensive setup. Forced to start his trademark dribbling slaloms from deep, his runs became increasingly ineffective as the game developed. As proved by their impressive focus and much-improved attacking drive as soon as the ball started rolling, the current domestic league champions were determined to give the hosts a much tougher run for their money this time round.
GK Claudio Bravo, 7 — The Chilean international pipped Marc-Andre ter Stegen for the Catalans’ spot between the posts in their domestic league debut. Let’s hope the Catalan recovers quickly as a player of his stature is little short of indispensable.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 — Returned to the starting XI after missing both the UEFA and Spanish Super Cups due to injury. As a result, Alves joined fellow right-backs Adriano Correia and Douglas in Luis Enrique’s increasingly worrying injury list.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 — Succeeded in containing the hosts from creating any clear chances until the moment in which he had to be substituted following Aduriz’s tackle. Reacted well by saving the shots Athletic had on target. Sergi Roberto was disciplined defensively and impressive when pushing forward. Luis Enrique’s men had a point to prove after suffering an embarrassing 5-1 aggregate defeat when the two historical sides met in the Spanish Super Cup. While his commitment and energy are unquestionable, it is perhaps time for Luis Enrique to realise that the Brazilian youngster may not be the ideal solution for the left wing.
The ESPN FC crew react to outlandish rumours that Neymar is on his way to Manchester United. Although the Blaugrana were always bound to miss Pique’s finesse when building attacking transitions from the back line, the courageous Argentinean was faultless when in possession.
DF Sergi Roberto, 8 — Substituted Alves early in the first half and, perhaps surprisingly, went on to become the Blaugranas’ standout player of the game. His physicality and astute defending impeded the hosts from breaking through as freely as they did in the Super Cup.
DF Dani Alves, 6 — The new No. If last season is anything to go by, expect the recent Copa America winner to remain Luis Enrique’s first choice in La Liga for the remainder of the competition.
Francesc Tomas is a freelance Catalan columnist who writes for Barcablog.com, Weloba and ESPN FC. After a year to forget, the former Arsenal skipper will hope to build on his encouraging start in matches to come.
MF Andres Iniesta, 8 — Iniesta stepped up as the Catalans’ leader, ensuring the tempo didn’t drop so that Barcelona could create spaces within the hosts’ back line. Did not have as much of the ball as he would have hoped for and became increasingly isolated as the match went on
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