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Braithwaite 9/10 as Barcelona win to begin post-Messi era

Martin Braithwaite scored twice as Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 4-2 at Camp Nou in their first LaLiga game since the departure of Lionel Messi.

– Report: Braithwaite gets post-Messi Barca off to winning start
– Replay (U.S. only): Barcelona 4-2 Real Sociedad

Gerard Pique opened the scoring with a powerful header from Memphis Depay‘s free kick, and another header from Braithwaite doubled Barca’s lead before halftime. After the interval, Antoine Griezmann had a goal ruled out for offside, and Jordi Alba shot wide when he had only the goalkeeper to beat, before Braithwaite grabbed his second, finishing off a move that began with Depay’s clever pass.

A fightback from the visitors saw substitute Julen Lobete pull a goal back and Mikel Oyarzabal score a free kick to leave Barca sweating out the final minutes, before Braithwaite set up Sergi Roberto to secure the three points.

Positives

The loss of Messi has left a void at Camp Nou in many senses of the word, but the most basic question it raised was this: how would Barcelona’s forward line function without its fulcrum of the past 15 years? Here, the answer was surprisingly positive. Depay was hugely impressive on his LaLiga debut, constantly involved; Griezmann looked lively; and Braithwaite took his two goals smartly. There’s life in this Barca attack yet.

Pique is so much more than just a defender — he’s an on-and off-the-pitch leader and club president-in-waiting too — and here he showcased yet another side to his game, scoring Barca’s first goal of 2021-22. It was fitting that Depay provided the assist given that the forward was only on the pitch because Pique had agreed to a hefty pay cut to allow the summer signing to be registered.

Negatives

Chants of Messi’s name in the 10th minute — as well as the numerous Messi shirts worn by fans in the stands — were evidence, if any were needed, that Barca’s greatest-ever player won’t be forgotten for a long time yet. His shadow will hang over this season whatever happens. At least this performance was a start in lifting the gloom that has surrounded the club this week.

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Real Sociedad’s two goals were unnecessary, too, giving Barca a late jolt they didn’t really need. The team were punished at times last season for inconsistency within games, and they’ll need to leave that tendency behind this year.

Manager rating out of 10

8 — Ronald Koeman has done a solid job as Barcelona coach, but there were many who doubted whether last season’s Copa del Rey win and third-place LaLiga finish merited another opportunity. Here we saw both sides of Koeman’s Barca: some lovely, flowing attacking football, followed by some moments of nervous, defensive fragility. Overall, though, this was a very positive display.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Neto, 6 — Forced into one very good second-half save from Mikel Merino, but was well-beaten for the two goals.

DF Sergino Dest, 7 — Did well before tiring and being taken off. Barca looked better with him on the pitch.

DF Gerard Pique, 8 — Followed his off-the-pitch heroics this week by opening the scoring here. Without Messi, Pique is more important than ever.

DF Eric Garcia, 7 — A gifted defender who still needs time to get used to his teammates. Dealt really well with one Oyarzabal chance in the second half.

DF Jordi Alba, 7 — Spurned a great opportunity to make it 3-0, although he may have been offside anyway. Will miss Messi more than most, but was still heavily involved in attack.

MF Sergio Busquets, 6 — Had a busy summer at the European Championships, and it showed at times here. Remains extremely important to this team, even if he isn’t quite the player he was.

MF Frenkie de Jong, 8 — In constant motion, and a comprehensive performance all-round when it came to dictating the pace of the game. Put in a lovely cross for Braithwaite’s first goal, too. Looks set to step up to another level this season.

MF Pedri, 7 — Remarkably, he was rushed back to action after featuring for Spain at both Euro 2020 and the Olympics. Could have scored in the second half, his shot being tipped over the bar.

FW Martin Braithwaite, 9 — Terrific. Had a shot saved inside the first minute, scored in the final moments of the first half and added a second later before contributing an assist too.

FW Memphis Depay, 8 — Dangerous from the start, playing Braithwaite in on goal and looking every bit the team’s chief post-Messi creator. Found Pique for his goal during a busy performance, and was feeling so confident that he tried to score with a 40-yard lob.

FW Antoine Griezmann, 7 — Looked Barca’s biggest threat early on. Almost scored with a lovely volley and hit the crossbar with a near-post header.

Substitutes

MF Sergi Roberto, NR — Replaced De Jong, and scored in added time to secure the win.

DF Emerson Royal, NR — Caught out for La Real‘s first goal.

MF Nico Gonzalez, NR — Came on for the last 10 minutes to make his debut and picked up a yellow card.

DF Ronald Araujo, NR — He may not have been responsible, but his arrival on the pitch coincided with Barca’s anxious final minutes.

DF Clement Lenglet, NR — Brought on in added time to see out the game.

Sourced from ESPN

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