Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi saved Barcelona‘s blushes on what looked like being a frustrating night for the La Liga leaders at home to lowly Alaves.
Blaugrana trailed for a good chunk of the match following John Guidetti’s first-half opener for the away side, but Suarez rattled home an equalising goal in the 72nd minute and Lionel Messi added a majestic free-kick winner late on to seal a 2-1 win.
Record signing Philippe Coutinho also made his first start for Barca.
Here, we rate the performances of Barcelona stars:
Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6: Did well to smother Ibai Gomez’s early advance through to goal, then made another fine stop to prevent Ruben Sobrino. Might have done more for goal itself.
Nelson Semedo – 5: Not his best outing in a Blaugrana jersey, struggled to contend with Alaves’ attacking threat in the first-half and offered them too much space. Subbed after 52 minutes.
Gerard Pique – 6: Lacked his usual confidence and didn’t deal too well with Alaves’ pace and movement, though he improved as match wore on.
Samuel Umtiti – 6: Exposed adopting high line as Guidetti raced through to net opener and wasn’t on same wavelength with Pique. Barca can’t afford to defend as carelessly as they did here against greater attacking outfits.
Lucas Digne – 5: Caught out of position a couple of times in the opening period and didn’t look comfortable at all up against Hernan Perez and Guidetti. Subbed early.
Andres Iniesta – 7: A few uncharatestic loose passes early on from the club legend but he produced vintage piece of magic with run and cross, putting ball on a plate for Luis Suarez’s equaliser.
Ivan Rakitic – 6: Workmanlike in the middle in what was a forward-thinking Barca side, stuck to his guns and responsibility well to keep the organisational structure.
Paulinho – 6: A quiet game for the Brazilian but he needed to offer more protection, especially in the first 45 minutes, to the Barca back four. Never stopped running though.
Philippe Coutinho – 6: Worked hard and constantly showed for the ball in a first-half in which he was involved in a couple of heavy collisions. Maybe not fully fit just yet. Subbed.
Luis Suarez – 8: Ever-willing for the cause and should have scored in 67th minute but for a decent stop from Fernando Pacheco Flores. Fortunately for him, he made up for it moments later with a great finish from Iniesta’s ball, his eighth goal in a row. His energy seemed to spark Barcelona into life but could have been punished late on for risky kick-out at an Alaves man.
Lionel Messi – 7: Lost the ball in the build-up to the away side’s goal and was also on receiving end of a nasty challenge by Ruben Duarte. As ever, involved in most things but was shackled well despite his intricate play around the box. Came close in first-half with free-kick and made no mistake in second, putting ball in almost exact same spot for the winner.
Sergi Roberto – 6: Caught napping early after coming on, allowing Perez too much space when he should have punished Barca. Added more of a direct threat than Semedo.
Jordi Alba – 6: Certainly gave Barca far more balance from a defensive and attacking perspective.
Paco Alcacer – 6: Was given chance to shine by Ernesto Valverde when subbed on for Coutinho. Helped to free-up space for Messi and Suarez and occupy Alaves’ defenders.
Barcelona club legend Lionel Messi has revealed he and his team-mates have been buoyed by the transfer window arrivals of Philippe Coutinho and Yerry Mina.
Former Liverpool star Coutinho made his Barca bow during the mid-week Copa del Rey triumph over city rivals Espanyol while Mina could be given a go against Alaves in La Liga this weekend.
For Messi, the Argentinian is pleased to see the club strengthening in the market and he himself has no problem being rested from time to time as squad competition increases.
“We got strong defensively and bought players of great quality, that solve problems,” the 30-year-old told reporters at an Adidas event on Friday.
“Both Coutinho and Yerry have arrived and we’re happy to have them with us.”
Messi was also asked whether he would mind being left out of certain matches this season, effectively rested, to keep him in tip-top shape – something he is nonplussed about.
“The coach decides,” the little maestro, who has plundered 26 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions for Blaugrana this term, said.
“I speak to him often and I have no problem in rotating, like my other team-mates.”
Meanwhile, with five Ballon d’Or titles to his name – the same as Cristiano Ronaldo – Messi isn’t focused on adding more to his decorated trophy cabinet, insisting he is not playing the game for personal honours.
He said: “I have already said that my goal is not individual prizes.”
Chelsea await Barca in the Champions League last-16, they’re unbeaten in the league and ahead of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid by 11 points, and the Catalan club face Valencia in the Copa del Rey semi-finals next week after overcoming a 1-0 first-leg deficit to beat local rivals Espanyol 2-1 on aggregate on Thursday.
“The objective is the same every season, try to win everything,” the 30-year-old Argentine told reporters ahead of their league game against Alaves on Sunday.
Barca are the only club to have ever won the continental treble twice, in 2009 with Pep Guardiola and in 2015 under Luis Enrique, and Messi is aiming for a hat-trick of trebles for both him and the club this season.
“I’ve said it many times that my own personal objective is to help the team win titles. We hope to finish this season in the best way possible and it’s going very well so far,” said five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi.
“There’s still a lot of football to play but luckily things are panning out well and we came back well against Espanyol.”
4.000 goals have been scored at the Camp Nou, Messi has scored or assisted 10% of them.
— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) January 25, 2018
Messi said the club’s coach Ernesto Valverde, who took over in the last close season should be given credit for the upswing in results after a disappointing final season under Enrique that was compounded by Real Madrid winning the league and the Champions League.
“The new coach was very clear in telling us what he wanted, which was rather similar to what we did before really,” said Messi.
“But things have tightened up at the back and we have the forwards to do the damage.”