Player Ratings: Gerard Pique helps lead Barcelona past Apoel Nicosia
Barcelona achieved a narrow 1-0 win against Apoel Nicosia at the Camp Nou in round 1 of Group H of the Champions League. Gerard Pique scored the only goal for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 73 percent of possession, created 15 goal-scoring chances and attempted 10 shots, five of them on target.
Luis Enrique made nine changes to the starting XI that defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 on Saturday, a clear example of the much-improved depth the current squad has when compared to last season's. Being able to field seven homegrown players and still come out victorious at this level is also a credit to the great work back at La Masia.
Unimpressively, Barca couldn't convert their extended time on the ball into clear goal-scoring chances, clashing into the packed Apoel defensive formation time and time again. That the only goal in the whole match came from a set piece sums up the match perfectly.
The Cypriot champions did themselves justice and, despite chasing the ball for most of the match, were able to hold it together and even challenge the Catalans in the dying moments.
In fact, having added three points to their tally and leading Group F after the first game is the most important positive for Barca to take. It was far from spectacular, but the job got done.
Time to move on and look forward to the next match in the hope of building on and even improving the current momentum: Barcelona are still unbeaten, with no goals conceded since official competition started in late August.
G Marc Andre Ter Stegen, 8 -- The 22-year-old German international was largely unchallenged during his Blaugrana debut. Having said that, his magnificent save late in the second half was crucial, a fitting ending to his first night in front of the eyes of the highly demanding Camp Nou crowd. Fortunately, the manager now has the difficult task of choosing whether to allow Ter Stegen to build on this success or trust the more experienced Claudio Bravo, as he did in the previous three matches -- a great dilemma to be faced with, given the unquestionable quality of both keepers at his disposal.
D Dani Alves, 6 -- Eager to join attacking positions whenever possible but, as has been the case in recent times, not always able to find the clear man at the end of his crosses. Personally, I would have given Martin Montoya extra playing time for him to continue his progression as, otherwise, it is unlikely that the Brazilian will feel a real threat for his starting spot as the season progresses.
D Marc Bartra, 6 -- Performed well after earning his first start under Enrique. While it is obvious that he wasn't facong any world-class strikers, he was generally able to anticipate his opponents' movement and tackle effectively when needed.
D Gerard Pique, 8 (Man of the Match) -- After spending far too much time on the bench during the past couple of weeks, the Catalan seemed determined to re-establish himself as Barca's defensive leader from the moment the ball started rolling. Completed a solid game to remember with a decisive header after a powerful run to get in front of the Cypriot back line.
D Adriano, 6 -- As always, happy to overlap from the left flank and even attempt a couple of strikes on goal when given the chance. Having said that, didn't perform well enough to keep Jordi Alba away from the starting lineup in the foreseeable future.
M Sergi Samper, 7 -- On his official first team debut, the young Catalan stepped up to the challenge of anchoring Luis Enrique's midfield. He passed the ball quickly and accurately whenever under pressure and stopped many potential counterattacks with prompt tackles. It is definitely worth highlighting that, despite being only 19 years of age, this is in fact Samper's 12th season as a Blaugrana after joining the club shortly after his sixth birthday. Impressive potential!
M Xavi Hernandez, 6 -- Left many details on his undeniable class and vision, often finding the open man. However, the legendary maestro failed to add much-needed speed and dynamism against a team that, like many others are likely to do in the future, opted to sit back and wait for an eventual chance.
M Sergi Roberto, 5 -- It certainly wasn't his best night despite putting in an admirable amount of effort. The 22-year-old youngster gave the ball away cheaply at times, made a couple of late challenges and even looked lost in the middle of the park. Let's hope he can find his former confidence and show his worth when given his next chance.
F Neymar Jr, 7 -- Hugely active from beginning to end, constantly eager to either connect with Messi or drive inside thanks to his speed and dribbling ability. Neymar took one-too-many touches on occasion, but his overall contribution and attitude were a huge improvement on the unsettled player the Camp Nou witnessed during most of last season.
F Munir El Haddadi, 5 -- Perhaps due to tiredness after an impressive month which has boosted his career at an unexpected rate, the young forward was far from his best -- so yes, we can now confirm he is human after all. Faultless work ethic as always, however.
F Lionel Messi, 7 -- Central to Barca's attack once again, he couldn't find a way to beat the rival keeper. Good to see how his partnership with Neymar continues to grow; the days when the two stars used to run into the very same spaces seem well and truly gone. His superb assist enabled Pique's header and, ultimately, the team's victory.
M Andres Iniesta, 6 -- Substituted Xavi after 61 minutes. Similarly to most of his attacking teammates, was far from inspired.
F Sandro, 6 -- Substituted Munir after 68 minutes. Made several unexpected runs and added some late spark up front. Unlucky in front of goal despite two great efforts.
M Rafinha Alcantara, 6 -- Substituted Sergi Roberto after 79 minutes.
The Quote -- "We are ahead of a highly difficult season, this is a clear example. I liked the result, the players' attitude and the response from our home fans. All my players must be ready to compete for a starting spot, my squad has 25 players, not 13. Everyone is here to help and compete." - Enrique.