Depay helps Barcelona avoid defeat against Bilbao

After scoring with a stunning strike to help his team avoid its first defeat of the post-Messi era with a 1-1 draw, Memphis Depay demonstrated why coach Ronald Koeman pushed Barcelona for months to recruit the Netherlands striker.

Depay’s close-range strike came as Barcelona struggled against an Athletic Bilbao side buoyed by the presence of some fans in the San Mamés stands for the first time since the outbreak began.

The draw in Bilbao occurred after Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 4-2 last Saturday in its first encounter after Lionel Messi was forced to leave the club to join Paris Saint-Germain due to financial difficulties.

After Sergio Busquets retrieved the ball, Depay, who signed as a free agent this summer, got possession on a rare Barcelona counterattack. In the 75th minute, Depay took a feed from Sergi Roberto and fired a left-footed drive past goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala and into the top of the net.

“We signed (Depay) because he is a wonderful player,” Koeman remarked after the game.

“Today he scored a fantastic goal. He is a crucial member of our team. He is powerful, quick, and an excellent finisher.”

In the 50th minute, Bilbao took the lead when defender Iigo Martnez headed home one of a flurry of corner kicks generated by the hosts’ fast-paced onslaught.

Messi missed

Apart from Depay’s excellent goal, the trip to Bilbao demonstrated how costly releasing Messi may be in terms of results, even if it does improve the club’s $1.6 billion debt.

Long portions of the match were dominated by Bilbao, which only features players from the northern Basque Country and neighbouring provinces.

Apart from a terrible mistake by Martin Braithwaite after Depay put him up following his dribble past two defenders, Bilbao’s pressure hampered the visitors’ offensive in the first hour.

Messi would have been a huge boost to Koeman.

“I don’t like always talking about the same thing, but it is true, opponents are more scared if they are facing Messi than if not, and we notice it too,” Koeman said.

“With Leo you normally don’t lose the ball, and in the first half, we lost a lot of balls when we couldn’t break their pressure.”

In the 11th minute, Oihan Sancet of Bilbao struck the crossbar. After goalkeeper Neto had lost possession within his own box, Frenkie de Jong’s timely slide saved a point-blank chance by Iaki Williams.

After half an hour, Barcelona lost Gerard Pique to a left-leg injury. After Williams drew Neto off his line, he was replaced by Ronald Arajo, who blocked a strike by Lex Berenguer early in the second half.
After Martnez headed in Iker Muniain’s cross from one of Bilbao’s 13 corners (compared to Barcelona’s two), Koeman changed his lineup in search of an answer. Yusuf Demir, 18, made his competitive debut in the second half as a replacement.

But it was only when Bilbao’s players began to weary that Barcelona was able to re-enter the game.

Moments before Depay equalised, De Jong hit the crossbar with an ambitious chipped attempt from the edge of the area.

After a similar counterattack launched by another ball stolen by Busquets, Depay came close to scoring the winner in the 86th minute, but his shot rolled past the far post.

With just goalie Neto to beat, Barcelona lost defender Eric Garcia in the final seconds of the game after he was awarded a direct red card for fouling replacement Nico Williams.

For the first time since March 2020, regional officials allowed 10,000 spectators to attend the match, all wearing masks and separated from one another by empty seats.

“We let three points slip away against a great team,” Bilbao’s Martínez said.

Valencia vs Granada

Valencia secured a point after Carlos Soler converted an 88th-minute penalty to earn a 1-1 draw at Granada.

In Valencia’s 1-0 win over Getafe to start the season, Soler also scored a penalty.

Mallorca won 1-0 at Alavés thanks to a goal by forward Fer Nio with 10 minutes remaining, the Balearic Islands club’s first win since returning to the top flight.

In the 66th minute, Alavés defender Rubén Duarte received his second booking.

Both Villarreal and Espanyol struggled in attack after a 0-0 tie, their second scoreless draw of the season.

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