Barcelona were given a torrid time by Athletic Bilbao but escaped from their trip to San Mames with a point as Memphis Depay’s superb late strike secured a 1-1 draw for the Catalans on Saturday.
Depay found the net with a fine left-foot half-volley 15 minutes from time in the Basque Country for his first goal in La Liga since moving to Barcelona from Lyon.
Ronald Koeman’s side had impressed in their first match of the post-Lionel Messi era as they beat Real Sociedad 4-2 last weekend, but they were fortunate to depart with a point from this game and it was impossible to avoid questions about the Argentine at full-time.
“I don’t like to always talk about the same thing but he is the best in the world and the opposition might be more afraid if Messi is there,” Koeman admitted.
“For us too, if there is a pass to Leo, normally he doesn’t lose the ball, and today we gave the ball away too often in the first half.
“You notice it, but that’s how it is, it can’t be changed now.”
It was a difficult night for Barcelona’s defence in particular, with Gerard Pique coming off after half an hour and Eric Garcia being sent off in stoppage time for bringing down Inaki Williams.
Former Manchester City defender Garcia received news of his grandfather’s death before the match and struggled throughout the 90 minutes, allowing Inigo Martinez to get away from him to head in the opener early in the second half.
“He is a great professional to play so well in a game after the death of his grandfather. We wish him all the best in his personal situation,” said Koeman, who insisted the draw was the right result.
Athletic, though, will feel they should have won despite missing several key players, among them goalkeeper Unai Simon, who has not featured at the start of this season after helping Spain reach the Euro 2020 semi-finals and then the final of the Tokyo Olympics.
Barcelona were unchanged from their opening victory meaning another start for Pedri, the brilliant young midfielder who also played at Euro 2020 and the Olympics and is now set to get a two-week holiday.
Martin Braithwaite, who netted twice against Real Sociedad, missed an early sitter for the visitors when he blazed over after great play by Depay.
Athletic, with 11,000 of their fans allowed into the 53,000-capacity San Mames for this game as coronavirus restrictions are gradually loosened in la Liga, then saw Oihan Sancet turn and crash a shot off the crossbar from 12 yards out.
Garcia dismissed late on
Pique then came off to be replaced by Ronald Araujo, suggesting Koeman should not have played the centre-back who had reportedly been struggling with a minor injury before the game.
Athletic were seeking revenge for their 4-0 loss to Messi’s Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final last April and they went ahead in the 50th minute when Martinez attacked a corner quite magnificently, getting ahead of Garcia to divert the ball into the far corner.
While Garcia played for Spain at the European Championship, fellow centre-back Martinez opted not to join Luis Enrique’s squad because he wasn’t “at 100 percent physically or mentally”.
Koeman responded by withdrawing Braithwaite and Pedri and sending on Sergi Roberto as well as Yusuf Demir, the 18-year-old Austrian international signed in July on loan from Rapid Vienna.
Frenkie de Jong hit the bar with a brilliant attempted lob before Depay levelled a quarter of an hour from time, controlling Sergi Roberto’s ball over the tap and crashing a brilliant strike past goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala at his near post.
Garcia then denied Athletic a chance of a last-gasp winner as he chopped down Williams just outside the area.
Elsewhere, Carlos Soler’s late penalty allowed Valencia to leave Granada with a 1-1 draw, while last season’s Europa League winners Villarreal were held 0-0 at Espanyol.
Promoted Mallorca are level with Barcelona and Valencia on four points after winning 1-0 at Alaves with a late Fer Nino goal.
Reigning champions Atletico Madrid host Elche on Sunday before Real Madrid go to Levante.