On Saturday, August the 17th, FC Barcelona hosted Alavés at the Camp Nou to kick off the start of their 2018/2019 La Liga campaign. The Catalans were treated to a guard of honour by Alavés in response to their recent Spanish Supercup win against Sevilla FC in Morocco. Barcelona ended up winning the game 3-0 with a Lionel Messi brace and a brilliant Philippe Coutinho goal.

Ernesto Valverde chose a rather reliable, familiar 4-3-3 starting line up to face Alavés with ter Stegen in goal, a world class Piqué-Umtiti partnership in the heart of the defense, along with Semedo and Alba on the flanks. The midfield featured the untouchable Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić, and Sergi Roberto. Finally, the front trio was led by no other than the best ever Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and the French prodigy, Ousmane Dembélé. One may conclude from this line up that Ernesto Valverde wants to play it safe when it comes to La Liga even from Matchday 1.

Despite the familiarity between players and the comfortable result in the end, FC Barcelona visibly struggled to find their rhythm to create a goal for the first hour of the game until Lionel Messi broke the lock with a cheeky free kick in the 64th minute. The football Barcelona produced during that first hour was aching for a little urgency and hunger. Barcelona's first hour lacked dangerous chances, persistence and team play. Some might blame the World Cup for lack of fitness. Others might claim that the first games of the season don't demand full focus from the players, as the later stages are far more important. The majority, however, seem to point the finger at Ernesto Valverde. The absence of the famous Blaugrana football and hunger for titles has led to a lot of criticism towards Ernesto Valverde.

Lionel Messi was crowned Man Of The Match against Alavés. During the game, Lionel Messi produced an abundance of inhuman passes to bring Barcelona moments of fire midst the dead football that was on display before his amazing free kick goal. The Argentinian star was everywhere for Barcelona completing dribbles, creating and scoring twice to secure the first win of this season's La Liga run. According to Squawka, Lionel Messi completed 100% of his six take-ons, created 5 chances, and hit the woodwork twice. To enhance his already great performance, Lionel Messi became the player who scored La Liga's 6000th goal.

Up front, Luis Suárez missed multiple goalscoring chances, assuring the Camp Nou that he's still in his drought. In the middle, Ivan Rakitić was successfully completing long passes to come up with solutions and spread the play. And finally, at defence, Nelson Semedo was present in attack but his quality evidently did not impress Valverde as he was soon replaced by Sergi Roberto.

There were three substitutions in the game: Nelson Semedo off for Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé out for Arthur Melo and Sergio Bsuquets for Arturo Vidal. The star substitution of the match was Philippe Coutinho who brought more life into the field with his passes, dribbles and goal. Philippe Coutinho, who was originally left out of the starting line up, sent a message to the world that he can be an important tool to keep Barcelona's midfield well-oiled, effectual and able to produce constant offensive threats. Mundo Deportivo claimed that it took only one half for Philippe Coutinho to prove himself worthy of a starting spot, with 44 successful passes along with only two shots at goal, one shot resulting in a goal.

The current La Liga champions pose as a serious threat for the new title despite the unconvincing football in the beginning as their strength in quality and experience prevails once again with their new captain Lionel Messi leading the way. The Catalan giants will be back in action on August 26th in La Liga against Real Valladolid. Will Luis Suárez regain his form in time? Will Ernesto Valverde urge the team to play with more hunger? Are the new signings going to impress? Only time will tell.

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