Memphis prevents Barça from sinking in San Mamés (1-1)
Koeman's side was slapped in the face, but great goal from Dutchman salvages a point
BarcelonaThe reality was this: having to suffer to get a point after running out of nails from biting them so hard. The debut against Real Sociedad was still a midsummer night's dream, while the trip to Bilbao was a wake-up call. If anyone thought that life without Messi would be a piece of cake, they were deluded. The Argentine, over the last few years, had already pulled the chestnuts out of the fire in games like this. Now the responsibility seems to be taken by Memphis, who with a precious goal prevented the shipwreck. A draw to make up a little for an unfortunate performance by a Barça who, for a few moments in Bilbao, simply survived. There is no consolation in protesting about a goal unjustly disallowed to Araujo just before half-time. To do so would be to hide an ugly reality, that of a team unable to impose its discourse.
If a few days ago the warmth of the fans filled Barça's sails, in Bilbao it was time to cover up to withstand a downpour of those northern showers that leave you very wet. 11,000 Athletic fans returned to the Cathedral, but between the txalaparta they play before the games and what Bilbao fans are like, it seemed that the Cathedral was packed. The start of Marcelino's team was electric, with an anxious pressing that didn't let Barça play, and only Memphis didn't hide.
If Barça longed for Messi's touches of genius that would turn games around when the going got tough, Ter Stegen will soon be back in goal. Fortunately, as Neto's legs were shaky at times. The Brazilian keeper was happy to trouble his team-mates with tricky passes that made life easy for a very good Athletic side. And by winning the ball back near the Catalan goal, the lions came within a whisker of scoring with a shot against the crossbar from Sancet and the speed of Iñaki Williams that took Eric Garcia out of his stride. It's true that having to suffer the first few minutes in Bilbao is usually a predictable script, that you normally have to wait for the waters to calm down and let the ball flow. The problem is that the deluge, on this occasion, lasted more than 70 minutes.
After a missed opportunity by Braithwaite, who failed to take advantage of a great slalom by Memphis, Barça seemed to be ordered around the ball. A mirage. Pending the return of the injured and to see how the players' legs hold up, Koeman repeated the formula that worked against Real Sociedad. Exactly the same team for a different scenario. And beyond the rebellious character of Memphis, very little happened. In addition, Piqué could not even finish the first half, he was injured. Nothing was right for Barça who, in spite of everything, could have gone to the dressing room ahead, when in the last action of the first half Martinez Munuera spotted a non-existent foul by Braithwaite prior to a mistake by young goalkeeper Agirrezabala. Araujo, in spectacular fashion, went for a bicycle kick. But the referee had already decided that he had seen a foul on the Danish striker's jump. A foul that not even the Athletic defender had protested. One of those injustices in which everything depends on how you look at it. For Culés, that this goal was disallowed was a robbery. For the Athleticzale, it would not have been fair to concede a goal after a first half in which they had been the better side. Everyone, in fact, had a point.
From the joy of the first day, Barça passed to an exercise of survival. From taking care of the ball a week ago, they went on to lose it easily, with a complicated start to the game, between Piqué's absence and Nieto's problems. Only Pedri, when he appeared, brought some sanity. There was little news about Griezmann. And if the first part had begun with Araujo claiming a goal, the second did it with the Uruguayan avoiding the Basque goal on the line after an action after 30 seconds in which Eric Garcia, again, lost the game against Iñaki Williams. It was only a way of prolonging the agony, as soon after Eric Garcia would arrive late again, in this case defending a corner, and would see Iñigo Martínez score the goal that the Basques had deserved for a long time. It was not the day of the centre-back from Martorell, sent off in the last minute for a foul on the other Williams, Nico, the young brother.
The Dutch to the rescue
Koeman reacted with a double change. Pedri, melted, gave way to Sergi Roberto and the young Austrian Demir, who was released in the Liga leaving quality details. The double change coincided with a step forward of Frenkie de Jong and the tiredness of an Athletic that had left its soul with its pressure. After 70 minutes, Barça finally closed the home side down around their goal. De Jong, with a lob on the crossbar, was responsible for announcing that Barça had finally arrived. But it was Memphis who saved the day with a violent, dry shot, as if with it the Dutchman wanted to get rid of the anger over the bad game of Barça. The former PSV player could even have scored the second shortly after, when the game had already been broken, and also Nico Williams was close to the goal in the play of the red to Eric Garcia. In the end, the best thing was the result and Memphis' goal. A moment of light in a match that turned into a bath of reality. It will be time to row against the tide.