Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta were brought off the bench in the second half as Luis Enrique picked a heavily rotated team but even with them on the pitch Barcelona struggled to break down the brave Basque warriors.
Deyverson sent Alaves ahead in the 39th minute when he prodded past Jasper Cillessen from close range, before Jeremy Mathieu equalised immediately after half-time from Neymar’s corner.
However, despite the introduction of Barcelona’s stars, the visitors went ahead again as Javier Mascherano and Aleix Vidal failed to deal with Ibai Gomez, who wriggled away and sent Alaves ahead again.
Ivan Rakitic was guilty of a couple of misses, while Messi skied a free-kick and Mathieu missed the best chance of them all, lashing wide from just a couple of yards out.
1. Luis Enrique’s rotations must be managed more carefully
Barcelona splashing out on six players this summer was to give the squad greater depth and to allow coach Luis Enrique to rotate more. Last season he had a mostly fixed first XI and towards the end of the season, the team began running out of steam.
After the international break the Asturian decided he would shuffle his pack, with this the first of seven games in 23 days. He left Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto, 50 per cent of his strongest defence, out of the squad entirely. He also made several other changes, with Lucas Digne starting ahead of Jordi Alba, while Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi started on the bench after international exertion, injury and both of those together, respectively.
Luis Enrique’s strongest Barcelona team is: Ter Stegen, Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez and Neymar, and just three of those 11 players were on the pitch at the start.
That’s not to say he should have started his recently recovered stars, but perhaps not chosen this game to rest other important players.
When asked about Barcelona’s packed calendar, Dutch football coach and fitness expert Raymond Verheijen told The Mirror: “If your players are accumulating fatigue and their performance drops and injuries go up, one way to fight that is rotating your team. You avoid the players accumulating fatigue, but if you rotate the players you don't play with your strongest team every game.
“The moment you start to rotate your players the team gets weaker, there is more miscommunication and performance problems. Coaches fight the symptoms but in reality a new problem happens. It's a difficult situation. Coaches have to choose between two bad things.”
2. Paco Alcacer shows adaptation process is not easy
Few men walk into the Barcelona team and just fit. Luis Suarez is the world’s best No 9 and even he took months to get used to the club’s style and working with his team-mates. Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal suffered the same problems last season, only starting to find their feet now. Alcacer barely touched the ball in the first half.
The former Valencia man’s first chance came in the second half, when Arda crossed from the right, but he snatched at his shot and it span wide. It was also his last chance. Suarez replaced him soon after Alaves took the lead for the second time. It may be a while before he starts again, with the MSN reunited.
To a lesser extent this problem can be seen with new goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen too. On top of only taking three training sessions before this game, he could only communicate effectively with half of his defence—Lucas Digne and Javier Mascherano—because he doesn’t know Spanish, while those two speak English. Neither goal was his fault, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen might have been able to keep one or even both of them out.
3. Returning hero Neymar is still on an upward curve
At times it is easy to forget Neymar is only 24. Particularly when he carries the weight of his country on his back—and Brazil is a big country, in both geographic and footballing terms. Returning after helping the Selecao to gold at the Rio Olympics and also starring in their World Cup qualifying wins over Ecuador and Colombia, Luis Enrique started him while his South American partners in crime, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, were left on the bench.
With the bleached blonde hair Neymar now looks a bit like Messi from the heights of the press box, which is fitting because when the Argentine is injured or rested, that is the role he must play. The creator, the time-keeper, the inspiration.
Neymar took on the role both willingly and ably, riding challenges where he would once have flung himself to the ground. When the “grown-ups” aren’t there, Neymar matures. He created Barcelona’s equaliser for Jeremy Mathieu with a well placed corner, and was the team’s best player, even as his team-mates failed to help him.
4. Kiko Femenia one of many who can help Alaves survive
This performance from the Basque Country minnows was no fluke. They went to the Vicente Calderon and drew with Atletico Madrid on the opening day and came to face Barcelona with the same attitude—no fear.
Alaves understand that in games like these they will not so much be under the cosh but buried beneath it and what they must do is be able to spring forward and capitalise on any chance that comes their way.
Former Barcelona player Mauricio Pellegrino is in charge and another ex-Blaugrana man, Kiko Femenia, is becoming one of the team’s reliable figures from right-back. It was his cross that Deyverson prodded past Cillessen to send Alaves ahead in the first half. And his overall game was far more impressive than that of Barcelona’s actual right-back, Vidal.
When he was substituted Camp Nou booed him. That comes from his decision to join Real Madrid’s youth team after he left Barcelona, but that noise will have been music to his ears as he walked off having played his part.
5. Samuel Umtiti’s stock rises without even playing
Signed from Lyon this summer, Samuel Umtiti has made an instant impact at Barcelona, where other new signings tend to struggle, as mentioned earlier.
He has a calming influence on the defence and played extremely well in the first two league matches of the season.
Left out for this game, presumably with the Champions League game against Celtic on Tuesday in mind, Umtiti watched from the stands as Mascherano endured a torrid evening. He was beaten by Deyverson for the first goal and unable to help Vidal as Gomez got away for Alaves’ second.
Mascherano still has plenty to offer Barcelona but Umtiti looks as if he has already won the battle to be Pique’s partner. Most thought it would take a little bit longer than this.