Barcelona dropped more points in La Liga after failing to beat Saturday as their first game since the Alaves dismissal of Ronald Koeman ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw at Camp Nou. Sergio Aguero had to be taken to hospital for tests after having breathing problems in the first half of the game. Aguero was able to walk off the field and Barca Interim Manager Sergi Barjuan said afterwards: “I asked him and he told me he was dizzy. I was told he was going to the hospital. I know nothing else.”
Gerard Pique has also been sidelined with a calf strain and will now be in doubt with Aguero for Tuesday’s scratch league champion match away at Dynamo Kiev.
Xavi Hernandez is expected to be appointed as Koeman’s successor this week, but with the details of his move yet to be agreed with Qatari team Al Sadd, Barca B coach Barjuan has been temporarily placed in charge.
Yet Koeman’s removal, and even Xavi’s prospect, yielded no obvious uplift, as a superb second-half strike from Memphis Depay was quickly canceled out by an equally impressive run and finish by Alaves’s Luis Rioja.
“What I have to do is win the players, make them believe in themselves,” said Barjuan.
After three league games without a win, Barcelona remain ninth, eight points behind Real Madrid, who had previously beaten Elche 2-1 thanks to two goals from Vinicius Junior and aided by a red card for Elche’s Raul Guti.
Even more worrying for Barça would be that the gap behind the top four is five points, while attendance suggests that the team’s form creates a sense of apathy among fans, with only 37,238 in the 99,000 Camp Nou.
Club president Joan Laporta has suggested Barjuan will still be in charge of the trip to Kiev, with Xavi, or the next coach, arriving in time for next weekend’s game against Celta Vigo or during the international break.
Barjuan acknowledged on Friday that it was “difficult to change things in a short time”, but also said the team’s style, a key factor in Koeman’s dismissal, was “non-negotiable”.
But while the first half-hour was slightly more goal-oriented from Barcelona, they still struggled for chances and the defense was beaten too easily for Rioja’s equalizer.
Despite all the talk about style and possession, Depay’s opening bat out of the blue was a lightning bolt. Jordi Alba played inside and Depay opened his body before curling the ball into the top right corner.
But Barca’s lead lasted less than three minutes as Alaves equalized with another superb goal, Rioja danced past three Barca defenders, hooked on a sublime movie from Joselu, before finishing and finishing Marc-Andre ter Stegen has.
Depay was slipped by Gavi and Nico Gonzalez but hit the post and then Antonio Sivera held on as Alaves for a difficult point.
Vinicius again key for Madrid
Earlier, Vinicius’ sensational start to the season continued when he scored twice in Madrid’s win over Elche to ensure the rested Karim Benzema is not missed.
Vinicius already gave Madrid the lead when Elche’s Guti was sent off in the 63rd minute and he added a second shortly afterwards with an excellent finish in the corner.
Madrid made life difficult for themselves late on when a Casemiro foul allowed Pere Milla to pull back a goal, but Elche’s short hopes of a return came to naught.
“We were very practical,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. “After only two days of rest, it is not possible to play with intensity and energy.”
Benzema’s revival for France means Madrid no longer have their top scorer alone for themselves and after 17 games already played this quarter, Ancelotti have opted to leave the striker at home.
It meant a surprising start for Mariano Diaz, but it was Vinicius who filled the void and scored his eighth and ninth goals of the season to continue with an excellent game.
The 21-year-old Brazilian has long been surrounded as one of Madrid’s most exciting talents, but he has found another level below Ancelotti.
“I did nothing,” Ancelotti said. “I’m just trying to give him confidence. I’m not a magician.”
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