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With just four home games lost at the Mendizorroza last season, a tough encounter was expected against Alavés, and so it proved for 45 minutes.
However, consistent and purposeful attacking from the Blaugrana eventually brought its reward and, in the end, the 2-0 win, courtesy of Lionel Messi’s double, was thoroughly deserved.
After a period of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, a frenetic opening few minutes saw chances at both ends, but once Barça took control and settled things down, most of the play was concentrated in the opposition half. Lionel Messi and returning captain Andres Iniesta looked the most likely to open up Alavés’ narrow and defensive formation, with both Gerard Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto always available and providing good width down the channels.
When the hosts did manage to counter, both Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti stood tall and protected Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal. So much so that it wasn’t until the half hour before the Babazorros managed their first shot on target.
Ter Stegen’s opposite number, Pacheco, was kept busy in the opening 45 minutes making six saves, and he was also equal to Messi’s low and hard penalty, after Gerard Pique had been fouled by Ely in the 38th minute.
Vidal’s happy return
It was precisely in this fixture last season when Aleix Vidal dislocated his ankle, ruling him out for three months of the campaign. Recalled by Ernesto Valverde, the 28-year-old looked accomplished throughout in the right-sided attacking role.
The start of the second half took on the same pattern as the first, Alavés going close through Manu García before Messi curled a long-range effort just past the post. Sharp interchanging of passes and great movement continued to be a feature of Barça’s play with the hosts often chasing shadows.
350 up for Messi
On 55 minutes, Messi grabbed his 350th La Liga goal in typical fashion. A static home defence could only watch as Barça’s No.10 was quickest to react in the penalty area, before firing home. He repeated the trick just 11 minutes later after some fine work by substitute Paco Alcacer.
Alavés worked hard to get themselves back into the game but the two-goal cushion meant that the visitors were content not to take risks. In fact, in the closing stages it was Messi who came closest again, hitting the woodwork for the fourth time in two games.
Paulinho came on for a late debut, replacing Iniesta who received the customary standing ovation as he left the pitch.
The first international break of the season means that Barça won’t be back in action until the Catalan derby against Espanyol at the Camp Nou, on Saturday, September 9 at 8.45pm CET.
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