Depay’s 1st goal for Barcelona wins 1-1 in Bilbao
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Memphis Depay has shown why coach Ronald Koeman urged Barcelona for months to sign the Dutch striker after scoring with a meteoric strike on Saturday to help his team avoid their first defeat of the era post-Messi with a 1-1 draw.
Depay’s goal from a tight angle came with Barcelona playing poorly against an Athletic Bilbao side inspired by having fans in the San Mamés stands for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The draw in Bilbao came after Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 4-2 last weekend in their opener as the club had to let Lionel Messi walk away to sign for Paris Saint-Germain due to of his financial situation.
Depay, who arrived as a free agent this summer, took possession of a rare Barcelona counterattack after Sergio Busquets recovered the ball. Taking a pass from Sergi Roberto in his stride, Depay unleashed a left-footed shot at goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala and into the top of the net in the 75th minute.
“(Depay) is a great player, that’s why we signed him,” Koeman said after the game. “He scored a great goal today. He’s an important player for us. He’s strong, fast and a good finisher.
Bilbao had taken the lead in the 50th when defender Iñigo Martínez directed one of the many corners generated by the hosts with their quick attack.
Besides Depay’s handsome goal, the trip to Bilbao showed how costly letting Messi go in terms of results, even if it helps the club in debt by $ 1.6 billion.
Bilbao, which only has players from the north of the Basque Country and neighboring provinces, dominated long parts of the game.
Aside from a bad failure from Martin Braithwaite, after he was set up by Depay after his dribbling past two defenders, the first hour was spent on pressure from Bilbao which disrupted the visitors’ attack.
For Koeman, Messi would certainly have helped.
“I don’t always like to talk about the same thing, but it’s true, the opponents are more afraid if they face Messi than otherwise, and we notice that 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.”
Bilbao’s Oihan Sancet hit the crossbar in the 11th. Moments later, Frenkie de Jong’s timely slide blocked Iñaki Williams’ point-blank chance after goalkeeper Neto lost the ball in his own box.
Barcelona lost Gerard Pique to a left leg injury after half an hour. He was replaced by Ronald Araújo, who blocked an early second-half strike by Álex Berenguer after Williams knocked Neto off his line.
After Martínez led Iker Muniain’s cross to one of Bilbao’s 13 corners, down from two for Barcelona, Koeman looked for answers by changing his roster. 18-year-old Yusuf Demir made his competitive debut as a second-half substitute.
But it wasn’t until the Bilbao players started to tire that Barcelona found their way back into the game.
De Jong hit the crossbar with a daring chipped shot from the edge of the box moments before Depay hit the equalizer.
Depay came close to scoring the winner in the 86th after a similar counterattack triggered by another stolen ball by Busquets, only to get his shot past the far post.
Barcelona lost defender Eric García in the closing seconds of the game after receiving a direct red card for fouling substitute Nico Williams with only goalkeeper Neto to beat.
Some 10,000 spectators, all masked and separated from each other by empty seats, have been allowed to watch the match by regional authorities for the first time since March 2020.
“We let three points slip away against a great team,” said Bilbao’s Martínez.
SOLER ON SITE
Carlos Soler scored another point for Valencia after converting an 88th-minute penalty to snatch a 1-1 draw at Granada.
Soler also converted a penalty in Valencia’s 1-0 win over Getafe to start the season.
A goal by Mallorcan striker Fer Niño with 10 minutes remaining gave the Balearic side a 1-0 win at Alavés, their first victory since returning to the Premier League.
Alavés lost defender Rubén Duarte on a second warning in the 66th.
Villarreal and Espanyol continued to struggle in attack after a 0-0 draw, a second goalless stalemate for both teams.
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