Football Features

“We’re a family here” – Five things learned as Piqué starts Barcelona’s post-Messi era in style with big Real Sociedad win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:57, 15 August 2021 | Updated: 18:37, 10 September 2021

In a thrilling night of football, Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 4-2 at the Camp Nou in the first game of the post-Messi era.

In the wake of Messi’s departure, many expected this to be the start of a negative period for Barcelona. Instead

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1. President Gerard Piqué

In the build-up to the opening game, Barcelona needed someone to step up and reduce their wages if they were going to be able to register new signings Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia. The man who did this was Gerard Piqué, who slashed his wages considerably to facilitate the registration of the new Blaugrana signings.

“It was a gesture that was required. I’m in contact with the other captain’s as well. I think they’re going to make a similar step shortly. I wanted to be the first to get it done,” said Piqué after the match. Making light of what was a massive thing.

So it was only fitting that Piqué score the opening goal of the season for the Blaugrana. The first goal in the Camp Nou of the post-Messi era, scored by his former team-mate in the youth team, one of the club captains, the greatest defender the club has ever seen, and the man whose financial sacrifice made the formation of this new post-Messi side possible.

The goal was simplicity itself, with Piqué rising to meet a brilliant Memphis free-kick and guide the ball home with authority. The Camp Nou rose to its feet in appreciation of their hometown hero. “I was born here, I was brought up here,” said Piqué after the game, where he put in a pretty flawless performance at the heart of defence next to young Eric Garcia, galvanising this new Barcelona.

“We’re a family here,” was Piqué’s post-match Vin Diesel style rallying call. There’s no mistaking that even with Messi off to do his own Hobbs & Shaw in Paris with Neymar, big Gerard Piqué will keep the family together doing their thing back home in Catalunya.

2. Messi Oyarzabal

Real Sociedad’s performance was, for 70 minutes, not quite up to scratch as they were overwhelmed by Barcelona’s press. They had a brief 10 minute flurry at the end of each half, and in the second period they scored twice in this run, including the best goal of the game.

On a night when everyone kept talking about how Barcelona were going to cope without Leo Messi, the man who delivered the best tribute to the greatest player in the world was Mikel Oyarzabal of Real Sociedad.

Isolated for much of the game, he often cut a frustrating figure. But 85 minutes into the game he stepped up and curled in an absolutely spellbinding free-kick to actually put La Real within touching distance of an equaliser. The last 13 direct free-kicks in La Liga were all scored by Leo Messi, and in the first gameweek after he has left La Liga the Camp Nou was the ideal venue for Mikel Oyarzabal to break Messi’s streak and truly establish the post-Messi era for the entire league, not just Barcelona.

3. Martin Braithwaite! Remember the name!!

When Barcelona signed Martin Braithwaite, it was embarrassing in oh so many ways. His quality, his profile, the way they used an emergency clause to sign him outside the window from struggling Leganés who weren’t then allowed to sign a replacement.

But Braithwaite is a diligent worker, and has been training with Henrik Larsson and has really improved. He’s not world-class, sure, but he’s a hard-worker and an intelligent striker who makes selfless runs and shows a touch of killer instinct.

None of that was more obvious than today, where he started on the left. Even though they’ve taken the no. 9 from him both in terms of shirt number and position on the field and given both to Memphis, Braithwaite didn’t complain and instead worked superbly with the Dutch forward. Within the first few minutes the two linked up and Braithwaite had the first shot of the match.

Later in the game, Braithwaite turned into an incredibly decisive force. He scored the second goal with a delicious back-post header, he scored the first with a powerful snapshot inside the area, and he set-up the crucial fourth with a great run and cross. Two goals and an assist is a decidedly Messi-esque output for a most un-Messi-esque player, but that’s the beauty of Braithwaite. He doesn’t have to be brilliant to be exactly what Barcelona need this season, a rugged and physical alternative to the brilliant Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembélé, young studs that need to be handled with care as they make their way back form injury.

4. Memphis makes his mark

With Leo Messi in Paris, there was a gaping hole to be Barcelona’s attacking talisman. Many wondered if Antoine Griezmann would fill that role, but while Braithwaite did the damage on the scoresheet and Griezmann was defensively exemplary, the most talismanic presence on the pitch was new signing Memphis Depay.

There were touches of outrageous genius, the kind of flicks and skills that Ronaldinho used to do, that got the crowd on their feet. There was the way he demanded possession and always looked to drive the ball at La Real. There was the way his genius set-piece set Piqué up to open the scoring. There was just… everything. Memphis was so into the role as talisman that by the second-half of his first-game he was getting the Messi treatment of being double-teamed and fouled constantly.

The last time Memphis got his shot at the big time with Manchester United, he was too immature to really understand what was at stake and what he had to do. Half a decade later, at 27 years-old, Memphis Depay is ready for the big time. La Liga may just have its newest superstar.

5. Look out La Liga: Barcelona aren’t finished

Given the departure of Leo Messi this summer, the man who topped just about every attacking metric in La Liga last season, no one expected Barcelona to do much this campaign. Especially not opening night against the tricky Real Sociedad.

What a surprise, then, that Barcelona not only won but played really well and dominated the game! Well, for 70 of the 90 minutes but still, they were very impressive in almost every aspect of the game. Pressing, passing, penetration. The whole team is working harder in Messi’s absence and their attacks are a great deal more unpredictable now everything isn’t running through one guy.

They were so good that when Piqué said “I think we’ve got real quality, I think we’re going to compete for everything this season,” after the game, the initial reaction wasn’t amusement but more of a general acceptance. The Blaugrana do have real quality, and while any team would miss the magic of Messi, maybe, just maybe, Barcelona have got enough brilliance left on their books to bring home some silverware.