Gerard Pique and Barcelona struggle vs. Athletic in Spanish Super Cup loss
Athletic Bilbao won the Spanish Supercopa after beating Barcelona by an aggregate score of 5-1 and containing the Catalans to a 1-1 draw in the second leg at the Camp Nou. Lionel Messi scored the only goal for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 69 percent of possession, created 17 goalscoring chances and attempted 10 shots, with four on target and one that hit the crossbar.
Following a 4-0 debacle at the San Mames in the first leg, Luis Enrique's men looked desperate to get a breakthrough from the initial whistle. Their emphasis on scoring early played against them, with key men such as Pedro and Luis Suarez unusually wasteful in front of goal. Behind them, the midfielders were guilty of overplaying and not testing Athletic's goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz from long-range positions.
Athletic, who only conceded 21 away goals in La Liga the past season, frustrated the hosts with their excellent defensive formation. Although the visitors spent the majority of their time behind the ball while trying to cover the heart of their defence, they became increasingly dangerous, thanks to lightning-fast counterattacking transitions that had their striker Aritz Aduriz as an isolated attacking reference.
Despite the support of 89,000 die-hard Catalan supporters, the Camp Nou giants failed to overcome the 4-0 deficit and therefore waived goodbye to their dream of equaling Pep Guardiola's sextuple-winning 2009 season. Kudos to Athletic for digging deep, tightening up defensively and stepping up a gear when needed to secure their first trophy since 1984.
Let's hope Barcelona can analyze and correct the mistakes committed on this performance. Failure to do so would only result in yet another negative result against Athletic when the two sides meet for the third time in two weeks Sunday in the La Liga opener.
Player Ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Claudio Bravo, 6 -- He was preferred to Marc Andre Ter Stegen after the German goalkeeper conceded an embarrassing eight goals his past two matches. The Chilean international looked confident throughout the match and went on to save three of Athletic's four shots on target. He is ruing his luck after Aduriz scored the crucial away goal after taking advantage of a loose rebound inside the Catalans' box.
DF Dani Alves, 5 -- The Catalans' new No.6 was eager to reach the byline and cut the ball back toward the centre, though his final ball was not always as accurate as needed.
The Brazilian international performed better than he did Friday at the San Mames, but he should continue to focus on improving the quality of his deliveries into the area.
DF Gerard Pique, 3 -- The Catalan defender was seen running into the centre-forward position more often than usual, and he hit the crossbar with a half-volley just four minutes into the game as a result.
With 30 minutes to play, he was sent off for the eighth time in his career, after a heated protest to the linesman, a moment that was the final nail in the Catalans' coffin. Whether his complaint was justified, a player of his experience should know better.
DF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- This was a laudable performance by the commanding Argentinean. Despite his obvious height disadvantage, he was effective in containing the Basque forwards for most of the game by succeeding with the vast majority of tackles he attempted. Similar to the majority of his teammates, he looked increasingly jaded as the game went on.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 3 -- Regrettably, the Frenchman was shockingly poor once again. He showed an alarming lack of concentration when misreading a pass enabled a clear chance for Athletic before the halftime break, which Javier Eraso wasted.
His failure to win a clear header against Oscar De Marcos resulted in an unmarked Aduriz scoring the crucial away goal, which decided the title in Athletic's favour. After he was beaten cheaply in the air time and time again, despite his height (6-foot-4), Luis Enrique would be right to drop him immediately.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- He distributed the ball well across the park and connected well with those around him when building attacking transitions. He struggled to contain Los Leones' counterattacking efforts, especially after Pique's send-off.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- He tried to change the pattern of the game by mixing shorter combinations with longer passes into space. He crossed the ball that enabled Barca's first and only goal. He should be disappointed after missing an absolute sitter less than a meter from the goal line in the far post after 58 minutes.
MF Andres Iniesta, 6 -- He stepped up as Barca's midfield leader and tried desperately to unsettle his rivals' back line by picking up runs from his attacking partners and attempting clever one-two combinations. He proved he is not a prolific goal scorer once again by mishitting a couple clear shots inside the area.
FW Pedro, 6 -- The electric Spanish international looked sharp from the initial whistle but, frustratingly, lacked composure in front of goal. He wasted a couple clear chances early, which could have changed the dynamics of the game.
He was generally unable to work his magic in what could potentially be his last ever match as a Barcelona player. The honest truth is the club's fans are counting the seconds until Neymar returns to Luis Enrique's XI.
FW Luis Suarez, 5 -- Despite completing his first full preseason in the past six years, the Uruguayan star lacked the sharpness that usually gives him the edge over his markers. Barcelona's No. 9 could simply not get engaged in attacking transitions often enough or, even more worryingly, hit the target when in favourable positions. Improvement is needed.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 -- He was closed down well by Mikel Balenziaga and Markel Susaeta, the two markers he had for company from beginning to end. As if that weren't enough, the quadruple Ballon d'Or winner was then crowed out whenever he managed to beat his markers, with Ernesto Valverde's men playing a very high defensive line.
However, La Pulga rose against adversity once again and scored the host's first and only goal just a minute before the end of the first half with the team's first shot on target. The No. 10's performance was not enough to lift the trophy on this occasion, but Cules should be proud of his effort nonetheless.
FW Munir El Haddadi, 5 -- He was substituted Pedro after 68 minutes but was unable to make any remarkable difference from the left wing. It was yet another disheartening showing from the youngster who wowed the Camp Nou in the early stages of the previous season.
FW Sandro Ramírez, 6 -- On for Rakitic with 22 minutes to go, he struggled to get involved and looked largely isolated in the right wing.