An exquisite Luis Suarez volley sealed a hard-fought 1-0 win for champions Barcelona at Athletic Bilbao in their La Liga opener as Luis Enrique’s men gained a measure of revenge for their 5-1 aggregate loss in the Supercopa de Espana.
Despite Athletic’s stubborn defending in the third encounter between the sides this month, Barca took the lead early in the second half through Suarez’s venomous strike.
A combative but lacklustre first half was punctuated by Lionel Messi’s penalty miss just after the half-hour mark, the spot-kick having been awarded in dubious fashion after Suarez took a tumble in the area.
Defending champions Barca grew into the game in the second half, controlling much of proceedings after taking the lead, though their bad luck with injuries continued as Sergio Busquets had to be carried off on a stretcher and Dani Alves was also substituted with a knock.
Athletic struggled to pose a threat as the game wore on, with Messi almost adding a second in the closing stages.
The contest got off to a sluggish start as depleted Barca, shorn of key duo Neymar and Gerard Pique, struggled to penetrate Athletic’s well-organised defence.
Barca’s injury woes increased inside of 20 minutes, with Alves having to be replaced by Sergi Roberto after picking up an apparent ankle problem.
Aritz Aduriz – who bagged a hat-trick in the first leg of the Supercopa de Espana – did go close for the hosts soon after, flicking a header just wide of the upright from Benat’s free-kick.
But it was Barca who were given a glorious opportunity to take the lead when Suarez was clipped in the box by Gorka Elustondo, although the decision to award a penalty did seem harsh.
However, Messi’s tame spot-kick, aimed towards the bottom-left corner, was easily parried away by Gorka Iraizoz, who was in action again moments later to prevent Suarez’s cross-come-shot finding the net before Rafinha fired the rebound wide.
Messi was given a chance to make amends before half-time as Barca were awarded two free-kicks in quick succession, but both the Argentine’s efforts were blocked by the wall.
Barca came out strong after the interval and finally made their possession count in the 54th minute – Jordi Alba latching onto an incisive pass from deep before picking out Suarez, who volleyed in with aplomb from six yards.
Luis Enrique’s side suddenly looked more like their usual selves and went close to adding a second when Roberto rattled the crossbar with a fierce effort from the edge of the box.
Ernesto Valverde soon introduced winger Ibai Gomez in the aim of testing the out-of-position Roberto, while Luis Enrique was forced into another substitution as Busquets went down after a collision with Aduriz.
Iraizoz had to prevent Messi netting after a fantastic run from the Argentine, but the one goal proved to be enough for Barca.
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