Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde admits the loss of Ousmane Dembele to a hamstring problem early in the 2-0 defeat at Celta Vigo will be a “major blow” to their end-of-season ambitions.
With the La Liga title already secure, Valverde opted to rest several key men at Estadio de Balaidos ahead of next week’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Liverpool.
French forward Dembele, though, lasted less than 10 minutes before being forced off with a hamstring injury.
While the defeat, a first in the league since November, will not in itself be a major issue on the campaign, losing another attacking option could be.
Barcelona confirmed in a statement on the club website Dembele had “suffered a muscular injury in his right hamstring” and was set for further tests on Sunday to establish the full extent of the problem.
“He is an important player for us and it is a major blow with the big games we have coming up,” Valverde told reporters, as quoted by Spanish media outlet Marca.
“I didn’t replace him with Philippe Coutinho as I didn’t want to run any more risks.”
Defender Jean-Clair Todibo also went off during the second half, but Valverde hoped the problem was not serious.
Maxi Gomez finally broke the deadlock in the 67th minute before Iago Aspas wrapped things up with a late penalty, given for handball following a Video Assistant Referee referral.
Celta Vigo move five points clear of the relegation zone to 14th place, while Barca slipped to a first LaLiga defeat since November.
“We dominated the match at moments. Their first goal came and it gave them the option to go on and win the game. We had no answer,” Valverde said.
“We played with a lot of new faces and in the second half we were unable to generate what we needed to score.”
Understrength Barcelona fell to a 2-0 defeat at Celta Vigo as the hosts took three deserved and valuable points in their quest to avoid relegation.
Visiting boss Ernesto Valverde made eleven changes from the team that started against Liverpool on Wednesday, and not all the understudies sparkled.
Check out our player ratings for the full story.
CELTA VIGO STARTING XI
Blanco 6. Had virtually nothing to do as Barca’s toothless attack failed to create anything of note in the whole game.
Mallo 7. Supplied some dangerous deliveries from the right flank and was always solid and tigerish in defence.
Cabral 7. Comfortably had the better of his personal battle with Prince, mopping up Barca’s minimal threat with ease.
Araujo 8. Powerful presence in the heart of Celta’s defence, and always posed a threat in the air from set-pieces.
Olaza 7. Did a steady job defensively, rarely looking troubled, and occasionally showed speed in attack down the left.
Boudebouz 7. Drifted across the field in the hope of creating danger, and delivered a great cross for the opener.
Okay 7. Mainly sat in front of the back four and patrolled that area well. Also tested Cillessen with a 20-yard strike.
Lobotka 6. Worked hard with and without the ball, covering lots of ground to make life difficult for the visitors.
Boufal 6. An occasional threat, including a curled shot just over the bar, but too often disappeared and was replaced.
Aspas 7. Always bright, busy and committed, and sealed the points with a well-despatched penalty in the latter stages.
Gomez 7. Fired an early chance wide and sent a free header straight at Cillessen before blasting home the opener.
Mendes 6. Entered on the right wing for the latter stages and provided a spark, looking capable of causing danger.
Jozabed 5. Came on for the final five minutes in midfield but barely had a touch.
Beltran 5. Appeared in stoppage time as Celta ran down the clock on their victory.
BARCELONA STARTING XI
Cillessen 6. A rare league start and made a few routine saves, but couldn’t get down at his near post to deny Gomez’s opener.
Wague 6. Came forward well, threatening with a low shot, but suspect defensively and conceded a penalty for handball.
Todibo 6. Strong and composed, sometimes too much as he risked losing possession in dangerous positions. Retired hurt.
Umtiti 6. At times looked back to his best, but dropped concentration at times including losing Gomez for the opener.
Vermaelen 5. Played in an unfamiliar left-back role. Booked early on and played within himself, offering nothing in attack.
Puig 6. Excellent passing in the centre of midfield, always seeming to have time in possession, but lacked cutting edge.
Arthur 7. Operated in the deep-lying pivot position and kept the ball moving confidently. Replaced after an hour.
Alena 6. Regularly drove forward to link midfield and attack, but was off target with a couple of shots from promising positions.
Dembele N/A. Forced off with an apparent hamstring injury after just five minutes, potentially ending his season.
Prince 4. Understandably lacking rhythm as he tried to lead the line, receiving little service and posing little threat.
Malcom 5. Initially bright, looking the most likely of the front three to break the deadlock, but faded badly after the break.
Collado 5. Came off the bench for his league debut. Neat and tidy but lacked attacking presence and looked lightweight.
Vidal 6. Introduced after an hour to replace Arthur at the base of midfield. Not his best position but he got stuck in.
Murillo 6. Came on for the last 25 minutes in the heart of defence. Solid enough on a rare outing for the Valencia loanee.
With nearly every team in La Liga still involved in European qualification or the relegation battle, Monday night’s final game of the weekend between Real Betis and Espanyol appeared to be a rare case of an irrelevant mid-table meeting.
And although it’s true that the two teams – tied on 44 points after a 1-1 draw secured by Morocco defender Zouhair Feddal’s 94th-minute equaliser for the hosts at Estadio Benito Villamarin – are safe from relegation with only a slim chance of climbing into the top seven, the game carried plenty of significance for under-pressure Betis boss Quique Setien.
Just a few months ago, the 60-year-old was being widely touted as the next big thing in the Spanish coaching world.
A strong start to the season including a sparkling victory at Barcelona made Betis the hipster’s team du jour, and Setien was hailed as the ultimate purist, a devoted purveyor of sexy football whose adherence to passing football made Pep Guardiola look like a long ball merchant.
In the last few weeks, though, the wheels have fallen off and now Setien, never mind being lured by Barcelona or a top continental club, is in stark danger of being fired.
The problems started in February, when Betis suffered a quickfire pair of cup exits as they were beaten in the Copa del Rey semi-final by Valencia and the Europa League by Rennes. Those double blows also affected their league form, and Betis fans soon started to turn against Setien as the team plummeted down the table.
The nadir was reached last Wednesday, when Betis crashed to a humiliating 4-0 loss against a Levante side who had previously slipped into the relegation zone with a run of eight games without victory, and Setien’s team have now won just three of their last 16 games in all competitions.
That slide in form was dramatic enough to force Betis into releasing a statement to confirm they will not fire Setien before the end of the season, but will determine his future in the summer.
Many fans have made up their minds already: they want him out. And it’s easy to understand that point of view, because the team’s loss of form really has been alarming and Setien has been far too dogmatic, sticking by his passing principles no matter what and lacking the flexibility to change the team’s approach when his preferred methods are not working.
On the other side of the coin, though, those fans could be accused of overreacting to excessive expectations generated by the success Setien enjoyed during his first season, when he led Betis to their highest finish in La Liga since 2005.
Although Betis have invested relatively heavily to add some real quality to the squad, especially in midfield with the additions of William Carvalho and Gio Lo Celso, they are still lacking in other areas – notably the centre of defence and in attack, where the lack of a genuine goalscorer (the team’s main striker, Loren Moron, only has five league goals) has badly handicapped the team’s overall effectiveness.
Considering the resources at his disposal, mid-table is probably just about where Betis should be, and dismissing Setien after a moderate but by no means disastrous season would be harsh.
But the feeling is that the tide has turned against him, and last week’s club statement appeared to put the ball in the players’ court: if you want to be led by this man next season, they have been told, you’ve got four games to prove it.
Monday night’s dramatic finale could yet convince the club’s hierarchy to stick with their man. At least they didn’t repeat the dross served up at Levante last week, as Setien could be history if they did.