Barca defeat will fuel Neymar talk
Hardly a day has gone by over the summer without some mention of a possible return for Neymar, and Friday’s defeat will undoubtedly fuel even more rumours about the Brazilian.
There was no Lionel Messi, no sparkle and no goals for Barca at San Mames. Antoine Griezmann offered little, Ousmane Dembele even less and Luis Suarez hobbled off.
It says a lot that substitute Rafinha was Barca’s brightest attacker, while Valverde’s final throw of the dice to find a goal was to send on 21-year-old Carles Perez.
Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho was not even in the squad, pictured in the stands as news broke that he’s off to Bayern Munich on a season-long loan.
Of course it’s still early days and Barca’s new signings need time to settle, but this game was another stark reminder of how the club look ordinary without Messi.
The transfer window in Spain remains open until September 2, and Friday’s defeat may have reinforced Barca’s desire to bring Neymar back.
Barcelona must figure out best midfield trio
Last season’s Barcelona midfield was largely set in stone: Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Arthur/Arturo Vidal, but none of those four players started against Athletic.
Instead, Valverde shocked us all by going with Carles Alena, Frenkie de Jong and Sergi Roberto - for the first half at least - Rakitic arrived at the break for Alena.
While it was a tantalising glimpse into the future it didn’t really work out. De Jong was shackled by Raul Garcia, while Alena and Roberto both failed to make an impact.
It will now be interesting to see how Valverde lines his team up against Real Betis on Sunday, in a game he really can’t afford to lose despite it still being early in the season.
Barcelona have a host of midfield options to pick from this season, but it remains to be seen what Valverde’s preferred line-up is going to be.
Defeat puts pressure back on Valverde already
Ernesto Valverde somehow managed to avoid the sack at the end of last season after those defeats to Liverpool and Valencia, but Friday’s defeat will put him under pressure once again.
The 55-year-old managed to surprise us all with his team selection, starting with a midfield of De Jong, Alena and Roberto, but that was probably the high point of the evening.
Valverde handed full debuts to Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann but the new signings failed to shine as Barcelona put in a pretty poor display and rarely looked like scoring.
The champions can have few complaints about the result, but the defeat means scrutiny will once again turn on Valverde for his team selection and their poor performance.
Barcelona’s next fixture is at home to Real Betis on Sunday which, crazy as it sound, now has the feel of a must-win about it. It’s also worth remembering that Betis won the corresponding fixture 4-3 last season.