Barca’s fighting spirit on show again
For long periods of Sunday’s match against Alaves it looked as though it was simply going to be one of those nights for Barcelona.
The passes weren’t clicking, the defence was being generous, even Lionel Messi was misplacing passes.
John Guidetti fired Alaves ahead, despite getting in a tangle as he fired goalwards and ending up tripping himself up, and then goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco touched a Messi free kick onto the post - it was one of those games.
Except Barcelona refused to give up and eventually levelled the match after 72 minutes. Another goal felt inevitable but Alaves responded well to the setback until Messi’s decisive intervention.
Alba and Roberto a huge improvement
With his team 1-0 down and struggling to break down Alaves, Valverde opted to make changes less than 10 minutes into the second half.
Off came Lucas Digne, who was having a poor game, and on came Jordi Alba, while on the other side Sergi Roberto replaced Nelson Semedo.
The two substitutes proved to be big upgrades on the players they replaced, providing width and allowing Barca to get the ball into the box from wide positions.
The two defenders played a big part in Barca’s comeback and while he know Alba is easily first choice at left-back, Sergi looked a cut above Semedo on the opposite flank.
Coutinho wasted on the right
Philippe Coutinho was handed a full debut against Alaves but Valverde also went for Andres Iniesta in his four-man midfield, which surprised a few.
The Barca boss had spoken about how he felt the two could play together in his pre-match press conference, despite Coutinho largely being viewed as Iniesta’s long-term replacement.
Coutinho found it tough to shine on the right, he had some good touches and some promising moments but he couldn’t really influence the game and Barca improved after he went off. He did, however, work pretty hard:
7 - Philippe Coutinho made seven recoveries in his first 65 minutes for Barcelona in La Liga, more than any other player in the game. Work. pic.twitter.com/UXHo0f4mE4— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 28, 2018
The Brazilian will improve Barcelona but probably not in that position and Valverde needs to think about where to employ Coutinho to get the best out of the new signing.
Busquets missed as Barca defence wobbles
By the time John Guidetti fired Alaves in front, Barcelona had already been given a couple of warnings as the visitors found acres of space behind the home defence on the break.
Gerard Pique looked all over the place at times, Samuel Umtiti may still be a bit rusty after such a long lay-off while Digne and Semedo did not impress.
Sergio Busquets was given a rare night off and it certainly showed as Alaves threatened an upset and with a bit more composure, might have had more than just one goal.
Another second half show
Once again Barcelona won the game in the second half, which is becoming a bit of a theme this season.
The team’s dominance suggested a goal would come eventually, and so it proved as Luis Suarez levelled. However, Barcelona then had to wait until the 84th minute before Lionel Messi fired in a brilliant free kick.
Barca have now scored 42 of their 59 La Liga goals (that’s 71%) in the second half of matches.
Second-half goals have also seen them win against Alaves twice, Getafe, Las Palmas, Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Real Betis (as well as grabbing draws at Valencia and Atletico Madrid).