In Spanish, the phrase a la vez means “both, at the same time.” Fittingly, Barça’s 1-2 loss to newly promoted Alavés was, a la vez, frustrating and potentially avoidable, but not world ending or an indicator of crisis.
In the aftermath of a travel-filled international break, Luis Enrique opted to rest many of the usual suspects and field an untested starting eleven. Due to Marc-André ter Stegen picking up an injury in training ahead of the weekend, Jasper Cillessen made his debut in goal. Additionally, Paco Alcácer took the field for the first time in blaugrana, and Lucas Digne started his first Liga match.
Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto were given the day off and watched the match from the stands alongside the injured ter Stegen and André Gomes.
Lucho rounded out the starters with Jeremy Mathieu, Javier Mascherano, and Aleix Vidal joining Digne at the back, Busquets, Rakitić, and Denis Suárez in the midfield, and Arda Turan and Neymar flanking Alcácer up front.
It was a bold choice to mix in so many new faces and send out a group who have hardly trained or played together, and the lack of familiarity showed. Barça occupied Alavés’ box and controlled possession (a comfortable 74%,) but never looked anywhere near convincing or lethal on the finish. Out of 16 shots, only two were put on target.
— The Catalan Giant (@TheCataIanGiant) September 10, 2016
Conversely, Alavés found opportunities where they could and pounced on them. While they took only five shots in the 90 minutes, four of them were on target and two of them were goals. As last season’s segunda liga champions, this is a side that is used to winning, and they came into the Camp Nou unafraid and ready to play. The result rewarded them, and they deserved it.
Barça would end up paying dearly for their lack of decisiveness in the final third. Though there were several great chances early on, and Digne passed well and came close to creating a number of attempts, no one took advantage. Alcácer was especially quiet. It seemed like every time someone moved or passed well, whoever it fell to at the finish was destined to send their shot high and wide.
Then, in the 38th minute, Deyverson broke free from Mascherano and finished a neat cross from ex-La Masia and Real Madrid Castilla man Kiko Femenía. Interestingly, that goal made Deyverson one of only two players to score against both Barça and Real Madrid in 2016.
The second half started much more brightly. Jeremy Mathieu, in his first game back from injury, equalized almost immediately. Neymar sent a ball into the box from a corner, with Mathieu heading home.
After the goal, Barça looked closer to taking the lead and regaining control, and Lucho brought in Messi and Iniesta in quick succession to try and ensure a victory. But it wasn’t to be. Within seconds of Iniesta’s substitution, Ibai Gómez snagged a missed clearance from Mascherano, and first moved past Vidal, then Cillessen.
It would be the game winner, despite Suárez’s entry for an MSN reunion and a frenetic final few minutes where Messi almost salvaged a point.
Dropping points at home is obviously far from ideal, and Lucho clearly didn’t craft this lineup expecting for Alavés to give the performance they did, but there is truly little to panic about. Sixteen first team players traveled for international break, many of them for several thousand miles. Messi was questionable to make the squad, and Neymar only returned to Barcelona days ago. And although Cillessen gave up two goals on four shots faced, his defense should have given him a great deal more to work with, and he can’t be solely faulted for either of Alavés’ conversions.
A disappointing outing that will hopefully make the squad a touch humbler, and a lot hungrier, a la vez.