Alaves 0-2 Barcelona
Ernesto Valverde's second game as the manager of FC Barcelona was far from plain sailing despite Barcelona winning all three points at Mendizorrotza in Vitoria on Saturday night. His side are now two wins for two without conceding a goal while their hosts fall to their second loss on the trot without scoring one.
Alavés sat back with the option to counter to start the half but retreated deeper as the half wore on and they sensed their might be a point, or more, in the offing for them.
They had the best chance of the half from open play when Ruben Sobrino left Gerard Pique for dead but saw his shot saved by Marc Andre Ter Stegen as he came off his line to limit the attacker's options.
Lionel Messi had the chance to put Barcelona ahead from the penalty spot when Rodrigo Ely was deemed to have pulled Gerard Pique back as he lined up a chilena from a corner.
Messi versus Pacheco was set up and Pacheco came out on top. He turned Messi's penalty around the post for a corner and Alavés really started to believe it might be their day.
That's when things got a little hairy for Luis Zubeldia's side as they started to panic with their clearences and hoping against hope for the half-time whistle. It did come but not before they were made to sweat as Barcelona turned up the heat.
The second half was barely a minute old when Ibai Gomez broke to the left with Manu Garcia in support and the former's cross nearly reached his captain. Ter Stegen might have had it covered but Alavés were getting close.
The game ebbed and flowed with Alaves threatening on the counter and Barcelona doing everything they could to beat Fernando Pacheco. But the breakthrough was yet to arrive for either team.
The goal finally came for Barcelona, and for Messi, who went without a goal against Real Betis despite hitting the woodwork three times and was facing another scoreless 90 minutes after his penalty miss in the first half.
Jordi Alba made a move down the left and got the ball in space. He crossed to Messi and he stepped in front of Tomas Pina only to drive a shot towards goal. It looked like it might be off target but a deflection off Alexis and Fernando Pacheco was helpless at his near post.
Barcelona had the lead and a relieved Lionel Messi punched the air.
He had his second and 350th in LaLiga, becoming the first person to ever do that, on 66 minutes when Alexis' failed clearance landed on his left foot. The number 10 drove home with Fernando Pacheco rooted firmly to his spot as Alaves' hopes of a even a point dissolved into thin air.
Messi hit the crossbar shortly after and Barcelona continued to look entirely comfortable after that breakthrough goal. They escaped with all three points and that's all that matters for now until Dembele and any other signing they bring in gets involved but there were certainly some nervy moments before they got that goal when the game was anyone's.
Alavés vs Barcelona live stream online: latest news
Alavés vs Barcelona live stream online: match preview
Alavés and Barcelona meet in the second round of fixtures in a repeat of last season’s Copa del Rey final, which was the sole piece of silverware Luis Enrique bequeathed to the Camp Nou as he stepped down after three trophy-laden seasons. Alavés sprung quite the surprise in the reverse fixture in 2016-17, beating Barcelona 2-1 on their own turf but the azulgrana avenged that affront with a comprehensive 6-0 drubbing of the Basque side. Historically, Barça have had an easy ride in Mendizorrotza, winning on their last three visits by an aggregate scoreline of 11-0. Going back even further Alavés picked up a couple of 0-0 draws in the days when Leo Messi was working his way into the Barcelona starting 11 and all eyes will be on the Argentinean on Saturday in the absence of Luis Suárez and the departed Neymar.
Luis Zubeldía’s side have retained a link with Real Madrid in the summer market, adding Enzo Zidane to a squad already including former Castilla striker Burgui, but it those who have left that will be most keenly felt this season. Theo Hernández had such an eye-catching campaign on loan in Vitoria that he was snapped up by Madrid from his parent club Atlético while Marcos Llorente, a key component of the side that reached the cup final and secured a solid top 10 finish in LaLiga has returned to the Bernabéu.
Alavés started the season with a dispiriting away loss at Leganés, a side who are punching in the same weight division as Zubeldía’s, and the Glorioso boss would surely have preferred a softer target as he aims to land an early blow in what is likely to be a survival scrap this season. The signing of Rodrigo Ely on a permanent deal from AC Milan was something of a coup after his performances at the tail end of last season on loan and Rubén Sobrino showed some signs of the promise that had Manchester City snap him up from Ponferradina in 2015 last weekend but the young Spaniard will need to score more than the two he chipped in with in 11 appearances last season if Alavés are to avoid an inglorious campaign after the heights of last season, which is also an area where Christian Santos will need to do better after scoring just three in 2016-17.
Ernesto Valverde is in desperate need of not only a result in Vitoria but also a performance to galvanise a squad who have started the season in the doldrums after the departure of Neymar to PSG and something of a humbling at the hands of Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.
The club announced the capture of Ousmane Dembéle from Borussia Dortmund on Friday and that will certainly lift the mood around Camp Nou but the France international will not take part in Mendizorrotza. Another new face, Paulinho, could be in line for his debut but Valverde’s main source of concern is how to bring the best out of Messi without the rest of the MSN. In last week’s 2-0 victory over Betis, the Argentinean played as a lone frontman with Sergi Roberto behind him and Paco Alcácer out on the left in Neymar’s old slot – hardly a formation to quell the growing sense of unrest in the Camp Nou stands.
Dembélé will go a long way to sprucing up that attacking formation but on Saturday Valverde is likely to persist with his 4-4-1-1 with little other option while Suárez recovers from a knee problem.
The DSM may well serve to smooth ruffled feathers in Catalonia after the blow of Neymar’s Paris match but against a solid if uninspiring Alavés side Valverde may have to settle for more of what he witnessed against Betis, when the woodwork twice denied Messi but a Tosca own goal papered over his own team’s current deficiencies.
Alavés vs Barcelona live online: possible line-ups
Alavés XI: Pacheco; Vigaray, Héctor, Manu García, Ely; Alexis, Ibai Gómez; Pina, Sobrino, Óscar Romero; Burgui.
Coach: Luis Zubeldía
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen; Nelson Semedo, Umtiti, Mascherano, Jordi Alba; Iniesta, Rakitic, Busquets; Alcácer, Messi, Sergi Roberto.
Coach: Ernesto Valverde
Alavés vs Barcelona live online: selected betting odds
Alavés are priced at 10/1 to repeat their success at Camp Nou last season and if you fancy El Glorioso to do so by the same scoreline that's chalked up at 26/1. Unsurprisingly, Leo Messi is favourite to open the scoring at 3/1.