Without Lionel Messi, Barcelona Stunned by Athletic Bilbao in La Liga Opener
Messi sustained a calf injury during pre-season and without the Argentine, Barca looked distinctly ordinary as substitute Aritz Aduriz’s stunning acrobatic volley in the game’s closing minutes sealed Bilbao’s surprise win.
“The competition has put us in our place,” Barca defender Gerard Pique told reporters. “We were not us.”
Last season, Barcelona coasted to the La Liga title, losing just three times and finished 11 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid. Messi was the league’s top scorer with 34 goals.
But little went right for the Spanish champion on Friday. Barca striker Luis Suarez, who scored 33 goals last season, hit the post in the first half but soon afterwards limped off with an injury.
“Tests carried out on Saturday morning have confirmed that first team player Luis Suárez has an injured right calf,” said Barca’s website on Saturday. “His recovery will dictate his return to action.”
Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann made their debuts for Barca, but it was the 38-year-old Aduriz who delivered the game’s dramatic finale.
“Sometimes football can be so beautiful,” Aduriz told reporters. “It will be impossible not to miss this but everything has a beginning and an end. I am incredibly grateful to be able to choose this ending.”
Bilbao, who finished eighth last season, were well worth their win with striker Inaki Williams frequently troubling the Barca defense.
Meanwhile Barca and Bayern Munich have reached agreement for the transfer of Philippe Coutinho to the Bundesliga team.
The 27-year-old Brazil international will initially join on a season-long loan, with Bayern having an option to make the deal permanent for the 27-year-old forward.
“We’ve watched Coutinho for quite some time. The name doesn’t matter, only the quality,” Bayern chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told the club’s website following the 2-2 draw with Hertha BSC in Friday’s Bundesliga opening match.
“Obviously we still have to finalise a few details, but we’re delighted to be bringing this player to Bayern,” added Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.
Coutinho, who joined Barcelona for a reported $170 million from Liverpool in 2018, has struggled to make an impact in Spain after starring in the English Premier League.
He became the third most expensive player in history when he made the move to Barcelona.