When Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona are bad, some of their players dig deeper into the worst of themselves
Messi was benched for the midweek Spanish Cup Clasico, appearing as a substitute but not having a decisive impact in the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid.
The forward was back in the starting line up here even though Valverde’s assistant Jon Azpiazu said before the game he was not 100
Barcelona decided to take a risk because they have a rare midweek off and their next league match is at home against minnows Real Valladolid.
Even with the No 10 below his quicksilver
Messi was at once lightyears away from his own peak and yet the only source of any attacking joy for the Catalans on a night to forget.
One player who is rarely bad, though, is goalkeeper Marc-Andre
Ter Stegen endured arguably his worst night as a Barcelona player at the San Mames, a brutal 4-0 defeat by Athletic in the Spanish Super Cup in August 2015, when Mikel San Jose scored from the centre-circle against him.
Since then it’s almost as if he’s vowed never to leave this stadium feeling disappointed with himself again.
In October 2017 he made a string of brilliant saves to keep Athletic at bay as Barcelona won 2-0 away and tonight he was huge again.
The German produced a spectacular save to pry Markel Susaeta’s vicious, dipping effort away from goal and blocked Inaki Williams’s close-range effort when it seemed the strike was poised to win it for the hosts.
“Ter Stegen was sensational,” said Athletic coach Gaizka Garitano. “They have a great goalkeeper who made two great saves.”
With Barcelona struggling to keep the ball Valverde eventually ceded and replaced Vidal with Carles Alena, the Barca youth product he doesn’t exactly trust but also knows he must use.
The coach never seems particularly keen to turn to La Masia players but understands the demands of being Barcelona coach require it.
With Alena on the pitch they were a little improved and found some control, but it was not enough to take more than a point.
The draw means Barcelona sit six points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, a nice cushion, but for the second week in a
While Real Madrid
The return of Ousmane Dembele may help with that, the Frenchman appearing in a late cameo in the final stages after injury, along with Messi recovering his fitness, and this might be just a blip, but it will certainly be a worry for Valverde.