Barcelona 1-1 Athletic Bilbao: 3 reasons why the champions dropped points
Barcelona's perfect start to the season looks like a distant memory after dropping yet more points today, as Athletic Bilbao showed tremendous nerves to hold the champions at the Camp Nou. Manager Ernesto Valverde threw two big curveballs after dropping Messi and Busquets to the bench, and was made to pay for the same with a poor first-half.
Los Leones were in cruise control during the opening 45, while Oscar De Marcos put the visitors ahead just before half-time. But the introduction of Messi changed the complexion of the game in the second stanza as the hosts gained momentum and began dominating the proceedings as well as creating better opportunities.
However, it could only muster a late equaliser through another substitute Munir, who tapped home from point-blank range after a pinpoint delivery from Messi from the right.
The result extends Barcelona's winless streak in the league to three games now. Here are the three reasons behind a disappointing result:
#1 Valverde's bold decisions backfire
Valverde clearly had one eye on the upcoming Champions League tie against Tottenham Hotspur in mind. Whilst he'd be excused for putting the premium on a much bigger game, the changes he made weren't so thoughtful and his stratagems today lacked tact. For once, the absence of Sergio Busquets in the midfield allowed Bilbao to take the game to the mighty hosts. With no protective cover for the back four, the defence was all over the place while Raul Garcia was like a bull in a china shop.
Additionally, with no Messi leading the charge up front, the Blaugrana lacked the bite going forward. Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele are a fearsome attacking triumvirate, but without the Argentine thaumaturge, there was no creativity in the final third despite hogging a lion's share of the possession. Coutinho once again played out of position while Suarez too had to drift out of his zone to get the ball or to lay crosses. So despite the urgency in the gameplay, the penetration wasn't clinical.
Without two of the most important players on the field, Barcelona struggled. And how.