Match Reviews

Alavés 0-2 Barcelona, 2017 La Liga: Match Review

Barcelona continued their perfect start to the La Liga season, winning their first away game by the score of 2-0. It was not an easy win against last season’s Copa del Rey finalists, who defended bravely, but Barcelona’s perseverance ultimately paid off, with Lionel Messi scoring both goals of the match.

Ernesto Valverde presented a couple of surprises in the starting lineup. The first was the return of Sergi Roberto to right-back despite Nelson Semedo’s excellent La Liga debut against Real Betis. Another surprise also came on the right side of the pitch where Aleix Vidal played on the wing.

Action started quickly at the Mendizorrotza as Alaves immediately exposed Jordi Alba on the left side of defense before sending a dangerous free kick on target, but the shot officially didn’t count because of a foul by the hosts that gave the ball to Barcelona. And from that moment on, Barcelona dominated possession and play.

Most of Barcelona’s attacking play came down the right wing. Vidal, especially, combined excellently with his teammates in the early going, showing good vision, but getting a clear look on goal proved difficult. Fernando Pacheco had to face the numerous shots, he accumulated four saves in the opening 15 minutes, but all of them were more or less right at the goalkeeper.

Despite the dominance on the pitch, Barcelona had to remain alert for the occasional Alaves counter attack. Alaves proved dangerous on such plays and they exposed Barcelona in the 12th minute, only for Rubén Sobrino to miss a wide open net. But even had he scored, the goal wouldn’t have counted as the play was offside, but it showed that Alaves would look for chances on the counter even though they were sitting deep for most of the playing time.

Barcelona continued to dominate the pitch and the stat sheet, but it would be a mistake to say that Alaves were living on the edge, and that Barcelona were on the verge of scoring. The hosts were very organized defensively and Barcelona struggled to break through Alaves’ defensive ranks. Barcelona stepped off the gas a bit around the half-hour mark and Alaves quickly threatened. Sobrino easily outsprinted Gerard Pique for a one-on-one with Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the young German made an excellent save.

Minutes later, Pique was in action again, this time on the opposite end of the pitch, controlling the corner kick, but he wasn’t able to send the ball on target. In the 37th minute, Barcelona won a free kick on the right sideline for a nasty challenge on Roberto. Messi sent a dangerous cross in, seemingly destined to find a teammate for an easy tap in, but instead Barcelona won a penalty kick after Pique was pulled down. Lionel Messi stepped up to take it and sent a pretty good shot to Pacheco’s right side, but the Spaniard was able to turn the ball around the post, keeping the game scoreless.

Barcelona continued to attack right up until the halftime whistle, but the first half would remain scoreless, mostly due to the effort of Pacheco who finished the opening 45 minutes with an impressive seven saves, which includes stopping a penalty kick.

The second half started without any substitutions and a very early chance for the home side. Wakaso’s deep pass completely opened up the Barcelona backline and Ibai squared the ball in front of goal, but Sobrino was half a step too late and the game remained scoreless.

Barcelona quickly went back on the attack, but like in the first half the Catalans couldn’t create any clear-cut scoring chances. There was constant action around Pacheco’s area, but Barcelona was missing that pass that would open up the defense. But that would change in the 55th minute when Messi scored his 350th La Liga goal. The goal came after a lovely one-two between Alba and Andres Iniesta, before Alba sent the ball into the middle, slightly off the mark. But Messi stole the ball back and with some help from an Alexis Ruano deflection finally scored the first goal of the game. Just moments after the goal, Valverde looked to his bench and sent Paco Alcacer out on the pitch in place of Vidal.

Barcelona continued to attack, with first Alba trying his luck from a good spot, but he missed badly. The left back also escaped serious injury as he was accidentally stepped on his Achilles tendon, but was able to continue. In the 66th minute Barcelona launched a quick counter attack led by Paco with Messi in support. The Spanish striker was looking to find Messi in space, but had the ball intercepted by Alexis. However, Paco reacted excellently to Alexis’ poor clearance, heading the ball into the area for Messi who completed the brace to double Barcelona’s lead.

Four minutes later, Denis Suarez joined the play in place of Gerard Deulofeu, who will surely feel he could’ve done more to help Barcelona win even though he made a few good looking plays. With nothing left to lose, Alaves looked livelier in attack, but the Barcelona defenders did their job. Messi then came within inches of completing the hat-trick, but his shot bounced off the crossbar. It was Messi’s fourth shot off the frame of the goal in two La Liga matches.

The pace of play dropped drastically in the final ten minutes of play as seemingly everybody started to wait for the final whistle. Barcelona continued to attack, though with less urgency while Alaves tried their best to score the consolidation goal. One noteworthy moment of the dying moments came in the 88th minute when Paulinho made his Barcelona debut in pace of Iniesta. In added time, Barcelona created a couple good scoring chances, but neither Denis nor Pique could add to Barcelona’s lead.

Barcelona now have two weeks off with an international break upcoming. The Catalans will be back in action on September 9 when Barcelona host city rivals Espanyol.

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