Barcelona player ratings: Lionel Messi is a maestro but Ousmane Dembele is erratic

Andy West 19/08/2018
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Barcelona are back and so is Lionel Messi.

The Argentine scored the Blaugrana’s 6,000th goal La Liga as the defending champions secured a 3-0 win over Alaves at the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Messi swept in a delightful free-kick midway through the second half before substitute Philippe Coutinho curled home a superb superb second before the Barca captain doubled his tally late one.

Here, we rate both sides as Ernesto Valverde’s side kicked off their defence with a comfortable victory.

BARCELONA 4-4-2

Ter Stegen 6. No serious saves to make, but he dealt with a couple of crosses well. One loose pass out from the back.

Semedo 6. Strong in defence and adventurous coming forward. Pretty unlucky to be substituted at half-time when Valverde became more aggressive.

Umtiti 7. Dominated opposing striker Sobrino in the air and was more than a match for anything Alaves could throw in his direction.

Pique 7. Made a good intervention to deny Sobrino a shot from Gomez’s cross and, like Umtiti, he looked untroubled all night.

Alba 7. Doesn’t yet enjoy a telepathic connection with Dembele but still made some dangerous incursions into the box, especially after the break.

Busquets 6. Played a little more advanced than usual, appears to be have been given more responsibility for creating by Valverde.

Roberto 6. A couple of heavy early touches and this wasn’t his night. Attempted to offer penetration inside the box and improved after moving to right-back.

Rakitic 6. Unusually stationed on the left of the midfield trio. Played a good early ball over the top for Messi but otherwise restrained.

Dembele 6. Always looked dangerous but erratic end product. Poor finish with a big first half chance and was replaced in the second half.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-ALAVES

Messi 9. Dragged an early right-footed shot wide, hit the bar with a brilliant free-kick, released several killer passes and scored twice. Maestro.

Suarez 6. Still struggling to find his rhythm, producing some heavy touches, but never stopped trying and assisted Messi’s second goal with great pass.

SUBSTITUTES

Coutinho 8. Came on at half-time and instantly added an attacking spark, looking to create on the edge of the box and netting a great goal.

Arthur 6. Appeared for the last 15 minutes to shore up the midfield, and did a tidy enough job on his league debut.

Vidal 6. Received a big ovation when he appeared late on and immediately showed his greatest quality by winning a tackle to spark an attack.

ALAVES 4-5-1

Pacheco 8. Decent save from Dembele in the first half and more good stops from Alba, Suarez, Coutinho and Messi in the second half.

Martin 6. Vulnerable against Dembele but stuck at it. Made a key block to deny Messi clean route through. Didn’t even try to attack.

Laguardia 7. Directed the back four with authority and showed excellent anticipation, also strong and swift in the challenge before tiring late on.

Maripan 7. Made a good clearance from Alba cross and did really well to deny Suarez in the second half. Solid performance all round.

Duarte 6. Played physically on Messi, watching his man well to close down space. Poor use of ball and didn’t get forward at all.

Wakaso 6. Worked hard in midfield and did a sensible containing job, but his use of the ball was frequently very poor.

Torres 6. Snapped into challenges, with too much aggression when he was booked for fouling Busquets. Taken off when Barca went ahead.

Garcia 6. Disciplined display from the visiting skipper on the left of the central midfield trio. Closed down Rakitic and Roberto well.

Gomez 6. An occasional threat down the right, looking Alaves’s most dangerous attacker. Didn’t always track Alba’s runs as well as he should.

Jony 5. Tried to lead Alaves’s attacks down the left but had little joy against Semedo. Substituted midway through the second half.

Sobrino 5. Sent a difficult header wide in the first half but made little impression. Came off with an apparent hamstring injury.

SUBSTITUTES 

Baston 5. Became a second man in attack as Alaves pushed for a leveller but had little impact as he received little service.

Marin 5. Played the final stages down the left wing but couldn’t get the better of Roberto and offered little threat.

Burgui 5. Former Real Madrid and Espanyol forward welcomed by jeers from home fans, and that was the last we saw of him.

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Live Barcelona Blog: Will Barca defend their La Liga title?

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Good morning, Barcelona fans. Alan Cooper here, along with the rest of the Sport360 team, bringing you the latest news from the Camp Nou.

As ever, get in touch with us throughout the day on Twitter and Facebook.

8:20pm – Barcelona will fight on all fronts, says boss Ernesto Valverde

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde says he will not make the Champions League their priority over retaining the La Liga title this season.

Read the full article here.

Ernesto Valverde

Ernesto Valverde

5:32pm – What could count for and against Barcelona in La Liga title defence

Our man Chris Bailey assesses Barca’s chances at retaining their crown.

Read the piece here.

Champions again?

Champions again?

11:30am – Valverde not prioritising Champions League over La Liga

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde says he will not make the Champions League their priority over retaining the La Liga title this season.

The Catalan giants have won the league in seven out of the last 10 season but have struggled in Europe, advancing to only one final since 2011.

Read more here.

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What could count for and against Lionel Messi's Barcelona in La Liga title defence

Chris Bailey 18/08/2018
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And then there were three. If there was any doubt that Atletico Madrid could mount a serious La Liga challenge this year, it was expunged in Estonia the moment Diego Costa lashed a grenade past Keylor Navas.

The UEFA Super Cup is a tame curtain-raiser compared to what will come but there is a sense Atleti proved they can go the distance in the title race after dispatching Real Madrid after extra-time.

Reigning champions Barcelona have freshened up an aging squad and Julen Lopetegui, who suffered the trauma of being sacked by Spain after being handed the Real reins, must smooth out the Cristiano Ronaldo aftershocks.

We sum up the reasons for and against all three clubs hoisting the trophy come May – now it’s Barcelona’s turn. Click here for Atletico Madrid‘s assessment and visit this link for the summary of Real‘s chances.

WHY THEY WILL WIN LA LIGA

MalcomBarcelonaUSTour (1)

Unlike Real, Barcelona haven’t pussy-footed around in the transfer market. They’ve trimmed the fat by shipping Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Andre Gomes and Gerard Deulofeu to the Premier League. The meaty Arturo Vidal was a welcome surprise alongside the injection of fresh talent in Malcom, Clement Lenglet and Arthur Melo.

Ernesto Valverde had a traumatic first summer in charge given Neymar’s abrupt departure and Ousmane Dembele’s injury-wrecked start to the season. The 4-4-2 was a hasty, safety-first adaptation rather than by design, helping to protect Andres Iniesta’s legs on the left – even still they won La Liga at a canter.

WHY THEY WON’T WIN LA LIGA

Iniesta

However, there’s no guarantee a change to a preferred Valverde formation will be an improvement. Indeed, it could end up exposing some defensive frailties, especially if Philippe Coutinho is stationed in the midfield of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.

Iniesta, while used sparingly last year, was still one of the world’s very best playmakers and Dembele, for all his attacking strengths, lacks tactical discipline for now if he is to be the left-sided prong of the attacking trident.

Then there’s Luis Suarez, who took ages to limber up last season and it won’t help if he’s isolated as the lone frontman. Even if he fires, he has no obvious relief from the bench.

KEY STORYLINE

Messi

Barca crave Champions League silverware. Every time Real Madrid lift ol’ big ears, they are metaphorically stepping on Blaugrana bodies all the way up to the podium. Juggling that clamour for European success, a La Liga tilt, Messi’s freshness and both a change of personnel and tactics will be a delicate balance for Valverde.

On the subject of Messi, he turned 31 in June. Will any fallibility creep in over the course of a draining season that started with the World Cup or he will shine even brighter in Spain now Ronaldo has fled?

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