Barcelona survived the scare that was Deportivo Alaves, who like last season proved a dangerous opponent at the Camp Nou. The visitors took the lead early in the first half through John Guidetti, but despite their struggles, Barcelona fought back in the second with goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi to extend their unbeaten run in the La Liga.
After a slow start Barcelona started pickup up the pace and quickly pinned the visitors back. Barcelona’s passing was good and newcomer Philippe Coutinho showed some flashes in his first start for the new club. Barcelona’s first opportunity came in the 7th minute with Lucas Digne firing from the edge of the area, but his shot went about a foot wide.
The Catalans continued to attack, but Alaves’ lines were very tight. Still, chances were there to be taken. But warning shots were fired by the visitors in the 15th minute when Alaves went on a 2 on 1 counter attack. Semedo did all he could to make it difficult for the attackers, but Ibai Gomez was still presented with an opportunity. However, Marc-Andre ter Stegen rushed out of the net, taking away every inch of the shooting angle and making the save.
Barcelona could’ve taken the lead in the 21st minute with Luis Saurez getting on the receiving end of a Messi free kick, but his header was saved by Fernando Pacheco. Two minutes later, Alaves made Barcelona pay for more lackadaisical defending as this time Guidetti went alone on goal from inside his own half. One-on-one with ter Stegen, Guidetti slipped, but still managed to take the shot, beating the Barcelona goalkeeper short side.
Alaves would create another chance three minutes later, this time Ruben Sobrino taking the shot from a tough angle, forcing ter Stegen to make a strong save to, surprisingly, keep Alaves’ lead to a minimum. Just after the half hour mark, Barcelona excellently outplayed Alaves with some beautiful close-quarters passing and quick movement, leaving Coutinho with an excellent chance to tie the game from the edge of the area. The goalkeeper was left ball-watching, but a diving Ruben Duarte prevented the goal with a block.
Barcelona’s attacking continued, but so did Alaves’ impressive defending. The fact that on occasion Barcelona were let down by their first touch or an errant pass only helped Alaves’ efforts. The fact that Messi can’t seem to get any help from the frame of the goal also didn’t hurt the visitors. In the 43rd minute, Messi lined up for a 35-yard free kick, firing a shot seemingly destined for the near post. But a stretched out Pacheco got just enough of the ball to push the ball into the post which promptly rejected Messi’s effort. Barcelona tried one more time in added time to tie the game up before the break, but Alaves without much trouble kept Barcelona at bay.
Neither manager made any substitutions during the break. Barcelona looked to quickly level the score but Alaves’ defense continued strong. Even though the effort was there, Barcelona was clearly lacking something, and Ernesto Valverde made not one, but two changes in the 52nd minute to right the ship, replacing both full-backs. Nelson Semedo was replaced by Sergi Roberto while Jordi Alba took Digne’s place.
Barcelona looked livelier with the two first-choice full-backs on the pitch, with Alba causing some problems after just a couple minute on the pitch, setting up Messi for a shot in the 59th minute, but the Argentine’s shot was blocked. Defending the lead, Alaves showed little intent going forward and looked to steal a second or two off the clock at every possible occasion.
But even though Barcelona attacked pretty much the entire second half, scoring chances were few and far between. Looking to bring on more firepower, Valverde brought on Paco Alcacer in place of Coutinho, who made some decent plays but at times appeared unsure as to where he should play and how to link up. With Alaves opening up a bit after the one hour mark after some chances on the counter, Messi and Suarez looked to use the added space in attack, but as Messi found Suarez for a lovely chance in the 68th minute, Suarez couldn’t beat Pacheco from close range. Somehow Barcelona also didn’t score in the 70th minute when Gerard Pique found Paulinho in space after a corner kick, but from 5 yards out the Brazilian saw both of his shots get saved by Pacheco.
Two minutes later, however, Barcelona finally tied the game up. Andres Iniesta sent the cross in from the left wing and found Suarez on the far post. The Uruguayan fired a half-volley on goal that took a slight redirection off of Pique’s forearm and finally Pacheco was beaten. Barcelona’s attacking efforts continued and the hosts could’ve taken the lead in the 76th minute as a Duarte turnover left Suarez streaking on goal, but he fired over the net even though he had a wide open Alcacer waiting in the middle.
In the 84th minutes Barcelona took the lead. Alcacer won a free kick 23 yards from goal to Pacheco’s left. Everybody knew Messi was the only option to take the shot and everybody knew where he was aiming, Pacheco among them, but even then the Spaniard couldn’t prevent the goal even though he did manage to get his hand on the ball.
Alaves were now looking for the equalizer and in the 88th minute they wanted a penalty kick. Roberto’s clearance was poor and it set up Munir El Haddadi’s shot that was blocked a foot later by Samuel Umtiti’s hand, but the referee would have none of it. Barcelona could’ve doubled their advantage in added time, but Messi couldn’t bury the chance created by Alcacer. Barcelona weren’t made to pay for the missed opportunity and Barcelona fans were able to breathe easier as the final whistle blew.
It was far from a vintage Barcelona performance as the hosts struggled to get going and even though they dominated the play one would struggle to argue that the win was deserved, especially considering Alcacer was offside when he won the free kick for the winning goal. But the final whistle blew and now it’s back to the Copa del Rey for Barcelona where they will host Valencia on February 1.