Ousmane Dembele made his long-awaited return for Barcelona during their 1-1 draw with Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey last 16 on Thursday.
Dembele appeared for the final 18 minutes at Balaidos, replacing Jose Arnaiz, who became the first player ever in Barca’s history to score from their first three shots, firing the Blaugrana ahead early on.
However, the Catalans were forced to settle for a draw as Pione Sisto equalised before half-time, thus preserving Juan Carlos Unzue’s unbeaten run as Celta Coach against his former club.
“Celta will go to Camp Nou to play,” Barca boss Ernesto Valverde said after the game.
“There are no favourites. Everything still has to be decided and we know the strength of our opponents. We’re aware of it.
“It was a well-contested game, with a lot of rhythm from the start. They pressed up high and took risks, posing danger on the break, but we were dangerous too.
“After that, they dropped off and we moved forward. In the first twenty minutes of the second half, we were able to take the game to them, but we weren’t successful.
“Even so, I’m happy with the team’s work. We made changes with respect to our last League match, but many of these players have played in a few of our games and they’ve done well.
“When a Coach makes a decision like this, it’s always a risk. If you lose, it’s because you’ve made several changes…
“Still, I’m happy with the squad I have and the players responded well. Arnaiz? He’s working well in all areas of our attack, he’s confident and he’s scoring goals.
“Dembele? I wanted him to play without too many defensive obligations because the game was tense.
“Arnaiz also played as much as he did because the pace of La Liga may be too much for him.”
The second leg will be played at Camp Nou next Thursday, on January 11.
Celta Vigo 1-1 Barcelona
Sisto 31 (CV) Arnaiz 15 (B)
Celta Vigo: Sergio; Mallo, Sergi Gomez, Fontas, Jonny (Roncaglia 82); Wass (Mendez 68), Lobotka, Jozabed; Aspas, Maxi, Sisto (Mor 67)
Barcelona: Cillessen; Semedo, Pique, Vermaelen, Digne; Paulinho (Rakitic 71); Busquets, Gomes; Vidal (Sergi Roberto 76), Arnaiz (Dembele 72), Denis
Referee: Martinez Munuera