Ernesto Valverde demands more from Antoine Griezmann after Athletic Bilbao stun Barcelona

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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has called on Antoine Griezmann to be more involved in games after the Catalan giants were beaten 1-0 by Athletic Bilbao in their La Liga opener.

Griezmann joined Barca from Atletico Madrid for 120 million euros over the summer and was handed his debut at San Mames on Friday.

However, he struggled to make an impact on the left of a front three in the first half and did not fare much better when an injury to Luis Suarez saw him shifted into a more central role.

“If he is close to the box he can finish, he moves well, but you have to dominate the game for that to happen,” Valverde said in quotes reported by Sport.

“Putting him on the left, we knew that he will look for goal, but we have a left-back and players who can take the game.

“(However), we expect a lot from all the players and he has to look to get in the game more.”

Barca were without star man Lionel Messi, who is recovering from a calf injury.

“We’re not all like him and we have to learn to cope when he’s not there,” Valverde continued. “It’s inevitable to miss him, but we need to do other things too. We have to transform possession into goal chances, that’s what counts.”

On the injury to Suarez, who hit the woodwork with Barca’s best chance before being forced off late in the first half, Valverde added: “Luis has a problem with the calf and his injury set us back because in the second half we spent a lot of time in Athletic’s box and lacked finishers there.”

Bilbao’s winner came courtesy of a spectacular overhead kick from 38-year-old Aritz Aduriz in the 89th minute, with the veteran forward – who will retire at the end of the season – having only been on the field for a minute.

“Everything in life has a start and a finish,” he said of his impending retirement, as quoted by AS. “I’m grateful to be able to choose to end things where I’m happiest.

“(The goal) is dedicated to my family and everyone who supports me. These kind of things make football so beautiful.”

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Barcelona: Talking points as Luis Suarez joins Lionel Messi on sidelines

Andy West 17/08/2019
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Reigning champions Barcelona opened their La Liga campaign with a 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao in stunning circumstances on Friday night.

Barca were second-best in the first half and needed a trio of saves from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but also hit the woodwork twice through Luis Suarez – who then departed through injury – and his replacement Rafinha.

The second half was a cagier affair with few clear chances at either end, and the game appeared to be heading harmlessly towards a goalless draw until, with two minutes left, a piece of magic happened…and that’s the only way to start our review of the action.

Aduriz gives La Liga a flying start

After two seasons of Barcelona waltzing to the title by March, this was exactly the result neutrals needed to give the new campaign a flying start and spark hope that this season’s title race will be far more competitive.

And the nature of the winning goal could not have been more romantic or dramatic, as Athletic legend Aritz Aduriz came off the bench and, with his very first touch, rifled home a stunning overhead volley from close to the edge of the box to give Marc-Andre ter Stegen no chance.

It was a genuine contender for goal of the season on the very first day of the season, made even more remarkable for the fact that Aduriz is 38 years old and is far better known for powerful headers than flying acrobatics.

The Athletic legend, who is entering into his 11th campaign with the club over two separate spells, has already announced that he will retire at the end of the season and he will probably only play a bit-part role from the bench in the coming months. But even if he does nothing else before retiring, this moment of sheer brilliance is enough to ensure he will never be forgotten by Athletic fans – and it will also have been celebrated wildly by supporters of Real and Atletico Madrid. The title race is on!

Aduriz winner

Midfield conundrum for Valverde

The teamsheets contained a surprise with Barca boss Ernesto Valverde leaving stalwart midfielders Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic on the bench, instead selecting Sergi Roberto and Carles Alena to play alongside new signing Frenkie De Jong.

With Busquets and Rakitic both in their 30s, that selection was a look to the future and perhaps an indication of how Valverde would like his team to evolve over the coming campaign, but it was not a successful move and the Barca coach quickly abandoned the new policy with the half-time introduction of Rakitic in place of Alena.

The visitors were much more comfortable after the break, with Rakitic sitting deeper, next to De Jong, and helping his team dictate play. In fact, the team shape was a clear 4-2-3-1, with Rakitic and De Jong forming a double-pivot, impressive sub Rafinha on the right of attack, Ousmane Dembele on the left and Sergi Roberto through the middle in support of Antoine Griezmann.

And although the personnel will greatly change in due course, perhaps that is the formation Valverde is planning to become his template this season: Lionel Messi supporting Luis Suarez in the middle, Griezmann on the right and, on the left…a certain Neymar?

Frenkie de Jong

Suarez and Messi sidelined for must-win contest?

Barca’s opening day loss will certainly unload a barrage of criticism upon Valverde, who has been left with very little credit in the bank after his team’s consecutive Champions League collapses in the last two seasons.

Following the debacle at Anfield in May, it was inevitable that Valverde would come under the hammer as soon as his team suffered a setback in the new campaign. Worryingly for the Barca boss, not only has that time has come at the very start of the season, but it has also coincided with the absence of his two key attacking players, Messi and Suarez.

The former was absent from kick-off, left back in Barcelona after suffering a calf injury in training a couple of weeks ago. And Suarez joined him on the sidelines before the break, also suffering a calf injury which will be fully assessed on Saturday.

There is, then, a real chance that Valverde will be without both Messi and Suarez for a game which has become an absolute must-win encounter: next Sunday’s home meeting with Real Betis. A narrow slip-up in a tough road encounter will be swiftly forgotten if it is followed by a resounding home win, but it would leave Valverde under enormous pressure if points are dropped against Betis next weekend.

Messi, surely, will do everything to get back in time for the game. And Valverde will need him more than ever.

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Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Barcelona: Player ratings as Antoine Griezmann gets a 5 on quiet debut

Andy West 17/08/2019
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Aritz Aduriz was the hero for Athletic Bilbao, netting an 88th minute winner to down reigning champions Barcelona on Friday night.

It was just about a merited victory for the home team, who dominated the first half and defended well in the second, with Barca creating very few clear chances.

Here is how all the players rated.

ATHLETIC BILBAO 

Starting XI

Simon 8. Produced a sensational stop to tip Rafinha’s shot onto the bar and was solid whenever called upon.

Capa 8. Made some storming runs down the right, and kept going to the end to deliver the cross for the winner.

Yeray 8. Read the game perfectly to break up several attacks, marshalling the home defence with quiet and calm authority.

Nunez 7. Deputy centre back did a great job, defending with determination and concentration to keep Barça at bay.

Yuri 8. Worked hard defensively and showed plenty of attacking intent, including a great through ball for Williams.

D Garcia 7. Kept it simple and effective in front of the back four, showing no attacking ambition but supporting his defence.

Lopez 7. Showed poise in the centre of the pitch, catching the eye barring a terrible back pass. Tired after the break.

De Marcos 6. Worked hard down the right flank but made little impression and was replaced midway through the second half.

R Garcia 6. Typically combative, to put it politely, using his guile and experience to make life difficult for the visitors.

Muniain 6. Athletic’s captain couldn’t impose himself on the ball but worked tirelessly in his defensive duties.

Williams 7. A major threat in the first half, twice coming close in the first 15 minutes, but less effective in the second half.

Subs

Sancet 5. Highly rated teen came on to boost the attack but wasn‘t able to get going, looking nervous and daunted.

Benat 6. Veteran midfielder introduced for the final ten minutes and helped his team contain Barça in the latter stages.

Aduriz 9. The old man of La Liga came on in the latter stages and scored a sensational overhead volleyed winner within seconds.

BARCELONA

Starting XI

Ter Stegen 7. Made a great flying stop to deny Williams and was sure in his handling, but had no chance for the goal.

Semedo 5. Looked vulnerable defensively and although he kept plugging away going forward, he posed little threat.

Pique 5. Struggled to contain the pace and movement of Williams, often dropping deep and leaving space to be attacked.

Lenglet 6. Nearly grabbed a leveller with an injury time header and defended with efficiency despite struggling for pace against Williams.

Alba 5. Sloppy in the opening stages and although he improved in the second half he was lacking precision throughout.

Roberto 6. Selected in midfield but the game largely passed him by, and he was taken off with 15 minutes left.

De Jong 6. Played in the pivot role in deep midfield and was kept quiet in the first half, but much better after the break.

Alena 5. A surprise starter but he didn’t get into the rhythm of the game and was replaced at half-time.

Dembele 6. Floated in and out of the action, swapping flanks after Suarez’s injury. Much more dangerous after the break.

Suarez 6. Little involvement until he seized on a poor backpass to hit the post but was then forced off injured.

Griezmann 5. Started on the left before moving centrally after Suarez’s injury, and was starved of service in a quiet debut.

Subs

Rafinha 8. Replace Suarez and nearly netted with a brilliant strike against the bar, also twice coming close in the second half.

Rakitic 7. Came on at half-time and immediately helped his team restore order in midfield. Fired a good chance too high.

Perez 6. Rewarded for a bright preseason with a brief run-out, but he couldn’t make headway down the right.

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