FC Barcelona entered Saturday’s contest against Athletic Bilbao at the top of LaLiga standings, but they did not have a lot of room for error. Valencia’s win during Saturday morning had put Los Che just one point behind Los Blaugranas, so Ernesto Valverde’s men needed a win to recover their four-point advantage in first place. And that’s exactly what they did.
Barcelona might not have played their best game of the season, but it did not matter. A first-half strike from Lionel Messi and a stoppage-time goal from Paulinho in the final minutes were enough to give Barca a solid, yet unspectacular, 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames.
Messi Creates The Difference During The First Half
The first few minutes of the game were pretty tight, and even though Barcelona quickly tried to establish dominance, Athletic were the side that looked better. Aritz Aduriz tested Marc-Andre Ter Stegen early on, but the German goalkeeper won both duels. The first one came in the 18th minute when the striker’s header went into the bottom left corner but Ter Stegen denied him with an accurate save, and the next one arrived just two minutes later. The Spain international once again tried to score, but the German shot-stopper once again responded, this time with a close-range save.
Athletic’s dominance, however, only lasted 25 minutes. Barcelona began to move the ball around trying to find spaces and their first approach came on an attempt from Lionel Messi that smashed the right post. The Argentinian would get his revenge, however, and he broke the deadlock in the 36th minute when he placed the ball into the back of the net following a low cross from Jordi Alba. Barcelona grabbed the lead, and they would never relinquish it.
Messi had another chance to increase the lead just before the break, but the crossbar denied him once again. The first half ended with a 1-0 lead for Barcelona, and it was clear the momentum was on Barca’s side.
Barcelona Cruised, Sealed The Dale On Stoppage Time
Athletic needed to change their approach in the second half, and at times they adopted a more positive stance. In fact, they came close to equalise in the 53th minute thanks to Raul Garcia, but the playmaker’s header bounced off the crossbar when Ter Stegen was beaten. One would have thought Athletic would have continue with that positive attitude, but they lived the same experience they endured in the first half. As soon as Barcelona recovered possession, Bilbao disappeared off the pitch.
Barcelona decided to secure possession in midfield, as Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets looked quite accurate on his touches in the middle of the pitch. Bilbao tried to counter with the entrances of Benat Exteberria and Markel Susaeta, but the moves did not pan out. They had one final chance when Aduriz – who else? – won enough space following a corner kick and nodded the ball home, but Ter Stegen denied him once again. The Germany international had an impressive effort between the posts, and continues to show he is good enough to defend Barcelona’s goal for the foreseeable future.
Everybody thought the game would end with a one-goal for Los Blaugranas, but Paulinho had other plans. The Brazilian midfielder closed things out tapping home a rebound from inside the six-yard box to make it 2-0. The final whistle blew shortly after that, and Barcelona extended their positive start to the league campaign with a huge win on the road.
Honestly, Athletic never were much of an opponent for Barcelona. Even though they showed some interesting things during the first 25 minutes, they looked helpless once Barca adjusted and flat-out overmatched after Los Blaugranas broke the deadlock. Unfortunately for them, they went through different phases as the game went on, and that is the perfect reflect of their inconsistencies they have had during the current term. After all, there is a reason why they were in 11th place before this game.
On the other hand, FC Barcelona managed to maintain their impressive start to the season with another comfortable win. Despite the fact they got off to a slow start, they did not have many problems to control the game and improved as the action progressed. Once again Messi played a pivotal role in the team’s win, but the entire team offered a good performance in this one. It is clear the side is in top form at the moment, and right now it does not seem like any club can stop them, at least at the domestic level.
Athletic Club: Kepa (5); Boveda (5), Nunez (6), Laporte (5), Lekue (6); Iturraspe (6), San Jose (5) (Benat (5), 68′); Williams (6) (Susaeta (-), 83′), Garcia (6), Cordoba (5); Aduriz (6)
FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen (7); Sergi Roberto (6), Pique (6), Umtiti (7), Jordi Alba (7); Rakitic (6), Paulinho (7), Sergio Busquets (7), Andre Gomes (5) (Semedo (-), 83′); Messi (8), Suarez (6)
Goals: Messi (0-1, 36′), Paulinho (0-2, 90+2′)
Referee: Juan Martinez Munuera
Yellow Cards: Iturraspe (41′), Busquets (47′), Pique (63′), Paulinho (75′), Umtiti (81′)
Red Cards: None
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