Memphis opens his account in style
We all know that replacing Lionel Messi is an impossible task but Memphis Depay seems hell bent on doing his very best to make up for the loss of the Argentine.
The Dutchman was once again a lively presence for the Catalan giants against Athletic and the pick of the bunch in attack where Antoine Griezmann was largely invisible and Martin Braithwaite will be remembered only for missing an absolute sitter.
Indeed it was Memphis who had teed up Braithwaite in the sixth minute for what should have been the opening goal. Braithwaite was rightly applauded for his performance last week against La Real but this was a shocking miss.
All of which meant it was left to Memphis to provide the moment of inspiration that salvaged a point for Barca at San Mames. The Dutchman produced a brilliant finish to smash the ball into the roof of the net and open his La Liga account in some style.
Frenkie the only other positive?
The only other real positive from Saturday’s night was the performance of Frenkie de Jong in midfield. The Dutchman was once again Barcelona’s driving force and played an influential role once again.
The midfielder came out of nowhere to deny Inaki Williams with a brilliant flying block in the first half after Neto had got into a mess and almost scored at the other end with a lob that ended up hitting the woodwork.
The departure of Messi means Barca need key players needs to step up this season. De Jong and Memphis have looked up for the challenge in the opening two games of the season but need more of their teammates to follow suit.
Tough night for Barca defenders
Barca’s defensive issues are pretty well-known and the backline found it tough going again on Saturday. Neto looked nervous all night and was poor with the ball at his feet, while Eric Garcia was clearly targeted by Athletic and found Inaki Williams a tough customer.
There’s no doubt it was a tough game for the 20-year-old who sadly learned his grandfather had passed away just before kick-off. Garcia ended the night with a red card in stoppage time, although the challenge may well have prevented a late winner for Athletic.
Gerard Pique also had a difficult evening. Reports before the match claimed Barca’s medical staff had advised the defender to rest because of a niggle. So, of course, Pique started and then managed just 32 minutes before going off with a calf injury.
Pique’s replacement was Ronald Araujo who added some much-needed pace to the backline but also had a slice of bad luck. The Uruguayan looked to have scored a perfectly good goal with an overhead kick, only to see it disallowed for a foul in the build-up.
Changes coming against Getafe
Injury to Pique, Garcia’s red card, and the decision to finally send Pedri away for an overdue holiday does mean that Ronald Koeman will have to make changes next time out for the visit of Getafe.
Araujo looks certain to start now and could even be joined in central defense by Clement Lenglet if Pique does not make it back in time. Oscar Mingueza could also be in contention as he closes in on a return from a hamstring injury.
Koeman will also need to find a replacement for Pedri. The Dutchman will probably go with Sergi Roberto but there are whispers Philippe Coutinho could be available in time for next week.
Supporters will also be hoping for minutes for Yusuf Demir and Riqui Puig. What is certain is that Koeman needs much more from his midfield trio than we saw against Athletic on Saturday.
Koeman gets away with one
Barcelona and Koeman will still be happy to come away with San Mames with a 1-1 draw after being outplayed for long periods of the game and looking as though a first defeat of the season was incoming.
San Mames is never an easy place to go and always provides such an intense physical and mental test for teams. Koeman’s men weren’t great at all but do deserve credit for digging in after going behind and then managing to find an equalizer.
The Dutchman’s starting XI was predictable and didn’t seem at all prepared for what was coming. There were no surprises from Athletic, who went for Barca from the off, but Koeman seemed fairly helpless on the touchline about what to do with the hosts’ press.
Of course we are only two games in and Koeman does have some big names to come back into the team. Yet this performance didn’t offer much confidence that Koeman can successfully rebuild this team in the wake of Messi’s exit.