Jose Arnaiz stars, Ousmae Dembele returns in Copa del Rey draw with Vigo
Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw by Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey on Thursday, with the second leg of the round-of-16 tie to come next week at Camp Nou.
Jose Arnaiz opened the scoring at Balaidos with a well-taken finish in the 15th minute but the home side responded before half-time when Pione Sisto hammered into the roof of the net.
Ernesto Valverde left Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta at home, instead preferring to rotate his side in Vigo. With that in mind, he will have been happy to leave with a draw, even if Barca had chances to win it in the second half. They are now unbeaten in 26 games in all competitions and are in a good position to progress when they host Celta next Thursday in the second leg.
Arnaiz's performance was also encouraging. The Barca B forward has now scored in each of his three appearances in the Copa this season and his reputation continues to grow.
However, the big positive on the night was the return of Ousmane Dembele. The French forward has not played since rupturing a tendon in September but returned as a second-half substitute in Vigo, coming on for the final 20 minutes.
Barca should have won the game. After an inconsistent first half, they were the better team after the break. Both Arnaiz and Denis Suarez had chances to win it, while Celta rarely troubled Jasper Cillessen. Denis' opportunity was the one, though, and the midfielder's miss highlighted his lack of confidence on the night.
Manager rating (out of 10
7 -- Considering Barca have lost regularly at Balaidos in recent years and could only manage a draw with Celta at Camp Nou last month, drawing 1-1 with a heavily rotated team is a good result. The Galicians knocked Real Madrid out of the cup last season and went with their strongest lineup here, but Valverde was able to keep the home side relatively quiet with a packed midfield.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jasper Cillessen, 6 -- Not really at fault for the goal despite fumbling to Sisto after the ball had crashed back off the bar. Was rarely tested after that.
DF Nelson Semedo, 8 -- A brilliantly energetic performance from the right-back, who had dipped in recent weeks following a lively start to the season. Joined in attack after attack with frightening pace and was involved in setting up a number of chances.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Perhaps, like his teammates, guilty of switching off for a millisecond in the Celta goal. Apart from that, a decent performance to follow his commanding pre-Christmas showing against Real Madrid.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 7 -- Growing into himself and looking increasingly confident following injuries to Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano. Made a number of important challenges and interceptions.
DF Lucas Digne, 6 -- Created a good chance for Arnaiz in the second half but wasn't as involved as Semedo on the opposite flank.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Didn't need to get out of second gear due to the number of bodies he had around him in midfield but still managed to impress. Even came close to scoring, thumping the bar with a side-footed effort from 25 yards.
MF Paulinho 6 -- With no Messi or Suarez, he played a slightly more advanced role. Led a couple of counterattacks and pulled a long-range effort just wide before being taken off with 20 minutes to go.
MF Andre Gomes, 7 -- Played with confidence and set up the opening goal for Arnaiz, standing up his man and pulling the ball back perfectly.
MF Denis Suarez, 5 -- Looks like the perfect Barca player but struggles to regularly seize his opportunities. Seems to lack confidence at times and missed a great chance in the second half to make it 2-1.
FW Aleix Vidal, 6 -- Will be disappointed not to have made a better impression after being handed a rare start. His touch let him down a couple of times before being replaced in the second half.
FW Jose Arnaiz, 7 -- Opened the scoring with a smart, first-time finish from Gomes' cross in the first half. The Barca B forward has now scored in each of his three first-team appearances this season and is showing Valverde that he's ready if needed. Almost added a second goal, but his back-post header was just off target.
MF Ousmane Dembele, 6 -- It's not important what the club's record signing did on the pitch (very little), just that he's back after nearly four months on the sidelines.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- Despite only coming on for 20 minutes, managed to feature in a number of attacks, testing Sergio Alvarez with a low, skidding effort.
MF Sergi Roberto, NR -- Given a late run out in place of Vidal.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.