In a shocking turn of events, newly promoted Alaves would go on to clinch a victory against Barcelona at home, after a 10-year long absence, from top flight football.
The team-sheet had plenty of rotation, with Neymar slotting right into the XI after his return, and Paco Alcácer getting his first start of the season in the Blaugrana. Jasper Cillessen would slot in for the injured Ter Stegen, and plenty of starters would be rested, in what was expected to be a routine victory for the reigning La Liga champions.
Barça would start aggressively, with Neymar and Denis Suarez combining well just outside the box, before Neymar would attempt a mazy run and find himself in front of a wall of defenders, just outside Alaves’ box.
As the game settled into a steady rhythm, Barcelona continued to dominate possession while Alaves looked set to sit deep and absorb pressure, waiting for any chance to counter. Ten minutes into the game, Alaves did just that when they took their first shot of the game through Barça’s gaping defence, straight at Cillessen, who held onto the ball with ease. A couple of minutes later, Denis Suarez would latch onto a Digne through-ball and take a shot that would deflect off a defender, and go off target.
Alaves displayed astounding discipline, as their 5-4-1 barely allowed any chances to the home side. The few times that Barça managed to thread a pass through Alaves’ back-line, the shots were usually off target. Stuck outside the box, Barça attempted to capitalise on the free-kicks they were being awarded by playing a practiced set-piece routine, in which Neymar would square his free-kick to the other end of the box for a waiting Aleix Vidal; Unfortunately, Vidal would fumble, and put his shot off target.
Forty minutes into the first half, the Camp Nou came to a stunned silence, as Alaves would make a no-look cross into the Barça box, which Deyverson would slot into goal with a calm first touch. Despite Neymar trying to strike back with a quick counter, his off-target header inside the box, did little to change the scoreline.
Barcelona were down 0-1 at half time.
An unchanged Barcelona stepped back onto the pitch and almost immediately Barça would equalise from an unusual vent, as Jeremy Mathieu went unmarked on a corner, and slotted a Neymar ball straight into the net. Barça had drawn level, and the Camp Nou breathed a sigh of relief. Jeremy Mathieu came close to giving Barça the lead as he was on the receiving end of another beautiful delivery from Neymar from a corner, just moments after the first goal, only to fumble and strike his shot off-target.
In what was a controversial call, Alaves would bury the ball into the net after a lobbed set-piece delivery, only for the goal to be ruled out as offside. A few more minutes into the game, Arda Turan would make a cross that found Paco Alcacer, whose shot would dangerously drift off-target, despite the angle being tight. Alaves’ counter would result in a late challenge from Mascherano, which got him into the referee’s book for the first time this season with a yellow.
As it began to rain at the Camp Nou, things started to look bleak for the Blaugrana, as the chances had begun to dry up, and there seemed to be no way through Alaves’ stubborn defense; Iniesta and Messi were already warming up.
As the clock hit the 60th minute, Lucho made his first substitution, introducing Lionel Messi into the game for Denis Suarez, shortly followed by Iniesta, who came on for Arda Turan.
These changes however, did little to impact the game, as Ibai Gomez would go on a mazy dribble to get past Mascherano and Aleix Vidal, before slotting his shot on target; Despite getting his fingertips to the ball, Cillessen could do little to stop the ball from rolling into the far post.
A second goal from Alaves was all the trigger Luis Enrique needed, to introduce Suarez into the game. However, the changes would have little effect on Alaves, as their defense continued to display tactical discipline that would rival some of the best defenses in Europe. Their two lines of Defense and Midfield, would squeeze into one like a vice every time the ball went past their midfield, which continued to lead to an over-turn of possession. Barça had the ball, but there seemed to be little they could do with it.
In the final moments of the game, Lucas Digne would find an open Lionel Messi, only for the Argentine to shoot off target, as the referee blew his whistle to bring the game to an end.
While it is easy to say that Barça had fielded a heavily rotated side with little time to gel, it is a bitter pill to swallow that Alaves were the better team on the night, having approached the game with a clear game-plan, and the tactical discipline to follow through.
However, those reasons are still perfectly valid, and shouldn’t be ignored; the season is long, and every squad needs time to understand each other and operate like a well oiled machine. There is still more to come from this Barça side. After a tough game, there is only one way for FC Barcelona.
Onwards and upwards.