Football Features

“His time as a starter has surely come to an end” – Winners & Losers as bright Barcelona held by Alaves

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:33, 30 October 2021

In a interesting night of football, Barcelona were held 1-1 by Alaves in Sergi Barjuan’s first game in-charge.

The Blaugrana looked better than they have in months but they couldn’t turn that into a win.

Who were the winners & losers?

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Winner: Memphis

The most important thing when starting a new era is a winning start, and the most important thing to making a winning start is obviously scoring a goal. So to that end, as the man wearing the no. 9 and leading the attack (especially once Sergio Aguero left the field injured) it fell to Memphis Depay to be the main man for his side.

And that’s exactly what he did at the start of the second-half when he picked the ball up on the edge of the box, shifted it onto his right-foot and absolutely blasted the ball into the back of the net. Sivera in the Alaves goal had absolutely no chance as the thing boomed off the Dutchman’s foot like it was fired out of a cannon. A massive goal for a massive occasion.

Loser: Memphis

As much as Memphis needs praise for opening the scoring, the saddest thing is that was the bare minimum that Memphis should have contributed to the game. It’s obviously unfair to expect any player to replicate the match-winning heroics of Leo Messi, but Memphis had the golden chances to add to his tally.

A hat-trick may be a lot to ask for, but the chances were there. First his run met Gavi’s lovely pass but unfortunately his jabbed finish struck the post and bounce out. That was perhaps unlucky but the second miss as he raced onto Nico’s lofted pass and, with time, could only shoot the ball straight at Sivera was embarrassing. That’s the kind of chance he has to be burying if he wants to make it as Barcelona, especially given that without Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembélé and Frenkie de Jong the club really struggle to score goals.

Winner: Luis Rioja

When Alaves fell behind at the start of the second-half they would have been desperate to get themselves level as quickly as possible. And they would have looked to Luis Rioja to try and get level given his dynamism and the fact that he scored twice against Barcelona last season.

And sure enough, Rioja stood tall. Taking the ball off the left he drove at the heart of the Blaugrana defence, skipping by Oscar Mingueza and Sergio Busquets and right at Gerard Piqué. A quick flick of the ball through a shockingly weak Piqué finds Joselu who flicks it back to Rioja who continued his run into the box, controlled the ball and waltzed by Marc-André Ter Stegen and slotted the ball home calmly.

A thunderous goal. And while that was the obvious highlight he playued superbly besides that.

Loser: Gerard Piqué

When your team is struggling of late, and when you have a new manager in charge and a precariously tricky opening game against a side that have already beaten Atlético Madrid away from home, you want to do as well as possible.

So when you’ve just taken the lead in dramatic fashion at the start of the second-half, the last thing you want to do is concede an equaliser within five minutes, especially from the first shot on target. But it seems someone forgot to remind Gerard Piqué of that fact, given how poorly he defended Alaves’ equaliser.

Of course Luis Rioja himself needs to be credited for how good his goal was, but at the same time Piqué’s defending of the situation was absolutely miserable. The attack went right at the heart of defence where Piqué stood and it should have been a simple block or clearance for Piqué and a couple of years ago it would have been. That he had to later leave the pitch with an injury was almost symbolic.

Barcelona have now conceded from their opponent’s first shot on target on eight separate occasions this season. That is a shocking statistic and it can’t all be laid at the feet of Marc-André Ter Stegen but also a defence that routinely hangs him out to dry. Today was one such instance and Piqué’s time as a starter has surely come to an end. Even if Ronald Araujo is injured, the Blaugrana may be better with their colossal Catalan on the bench as a leader than on the pitch as a player.

Winner: La Liga’s title challengers

La Liga is currently led by three sides all on 24 points after 11 games: Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Sevilla. Behind them Atlético Madrid have 19 points but with a game in-hand that, if they win, will move them onto 22 points. Those four sides look set to battle it out for supremacy this season, and each will hate that there are so many potential opponents.

Which is why they’ll all be delighted that Barcelona sit a massive nine points back on 16. The Blaugrana’s position of 9th is somewhat deceptive as they have a game in-hand, but only somewhat as even if they won that game in-hand, 19 points would only lift them to sixth place and that’s assuming Athletic Club don’t win their game in-hand and go to 20. They’re certainly nowhere near the league leaders.

Loser: Joan Laporta

The biggest loser on the night was easily Barcelona’s president Joan Laporta. The overall performance was actually pretty sharp for the Blaugrana. They pressed much better than they usually do, with more structure, and they passed and moved the ball better too especially after half-time.

That was the other positive: under Ronald Koeman second-halves were routinely lethargic, horrible affairs. Tonight was the opposite as Barcelona were bright, lively and pushing until the end to try and grab a winner. Sergi was positive, made proactive substitutions and good use of his squad.

So why did it need to wait until matchday 11 for him to take charge of a game? Why was Ronald Koeman allowed to last so long in a role he was obviously ill-suited for? The Dutchman was clearly an anchor weighing the club down and after just two days of training with Sergi they looked so much brighter than they have all season. This could have been the reality of this entire season had the change been made in the summer, or at least key games like against Atleti and the Clásico had Laporta acted after the last international break.

Laporta has apologised for his inaction, but as the table stands right now it looks like Barcelona will be battling for a Europa League spot and, unless one of those title challengers drops off the pace dramatically, their chances of even making the Champions League next season are genuinely in the balance right now. To say nothing of qualification in this year’s competition being at risk because of Koeman’s uselessness.

Laporta’s inaction could cost Barcelona two seasons of progress, success and glory. That needs more than an apology.