La Liga: FC Barcelona 2-1 Athletic Bilbao: Match Review

David Ramos

A recap of Barcelona's important 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou as Lionel Messi's free-kick kept Barca's slim La Liga title hopes alive for another week

FC Barcelona responded brilliantly, both to their recent three-match losing streak and to falling a goal behind on the night to defeat fourth-place Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou in Easter Sunday’s late kick-off. The visitors arrived at the Camp Nou off the back of two successive wins, and looked on course to secure an unlikely third after Aritz Aduriz put Ernesto Valverde’s side ahead in the 50th minute. However, Barcelona created chances and eventually found an equaliser courtesy of Pedro Rodriguez, before Lionel Messi completed the turnaround with a free-kick just two minutes later to secure a valuable three points as Barcelona kept their slim La Liga title hopes alive, for one more week at least.

Barcelona


Athletic Bilbao


Possession


57%


43%


Total Shots


17


11


Shots on Target


8


4


Pass Accuracy


81%


74%


Corners


9


4


Fouls


15


17


Offsides


8


1


Yellow Cards


2


3


Red Cards


0


0





Gerardo Martino made four changes to the side that slumped to a 2-1 Copa del Rey final defeat against Real Madrid on Wednesday, as Sergio Busquets dropped out of the starting line-up to serve a one-match suspension, while Cesc Fàbregas dropped to the bench. The final two changes were also forced, as Jordi Alba and Neymar watched on from the stands, nursing their own respective injuries. Alex Song, Pedro Rodriguez, Adriano Correia and Alexis Sánchez benefitted from the rotation; would the switch back to a regular, traditional 4-3-3 yield dividends for FC Barcelona? Or would the Blaugrana fall to yet another surprise defeat against the visiting Basques?

Perhaps as expected, Barça started the match in a sloppy fashion. Misplaced passes, disappointing first touches and late tackles; this wasn’t a vintage start from the once mighty Blaugrana. Far from it; this was a vulnerable side, visibly low on confidence. Undoubtedly, Barcelona’s confidence would improve as the game continued, but in the initial stages, they were susceptible. Hell, with a defense like that, they were probably going to be susceptible all game long.

A swift counter-attack could have created the first chance of the match after just five minutes, and it would have fell to the visitors – if not for some questionable decision-making from young star, Iker Muniain. After an intelligent cross-field through ball found the Basque winger in space, he could have driven towards goal and tested Jose Manuel Pinto, but he tried to be selfless and find Aritz Aduriz. Alex Song made the timely intervention, and Barça resumed their usual approach.

However, it was Athletic Bilbao who would create the next chance of note, responding to the first few touches of a certain Argentine forward, Lionel Messi. Unmoved by Messi’s magical dribbling skills, Bilbao kept faith in their direct approach – Ander Herrera sent Aritz Aduriz clean through down the right-hand side of attack with a simple slide-rule pass, and the Basque forward thumped a shot towards the near post. Unlike the past couple of matches, Pinto stood firm and parried the effort round the post for a corner kick. The visitors were certainly in the ascendancy, how would the hosts respond?

The answer? Well, or at least encouragingly. Lionel Messi was beginning to make his mark on the game and display his full array of talents, splitting the Athletic Bilbao defense to create a clear-cut chance for Pedro, only for the Spanish winger to fire his shot right at the body of the onrushing Gorka Iraizoz. It could have been the game’s opening goal, and when Messi himself was faced with a similar opportunity just moments later after Pedro returned the favour, you could be forgiving for prematurely celebrating that opener. Alas, the same fate awaited Messi’s shot and the deadlock would survive...for now.

Indeed, it would even survive the ball ending up in the back of the Bilbao net. A superb diagonal pass from Andrés Iniesta found Lionel Messi in space at the far post, and the Argentine finished with a sumptuous first touch to seemingly gift Barcelona the lead, only for the assistant to (correctly) flag for offside. Barcelona were getting closer, it seemed to be just a matter of time before they found that opening goal.

And Adriano nearly delivered after 20 minutes, cutting inside from the left after another good pass from Messi to try his luck on goal – and despite beating Iraizoz, Barça remained tied as a last-ditch block from Mikel Balenziaga cleared the danger. The pressure was building, but remember, Barça were still under threat at the other end.

After seeing the club concede so many simple goals this season, it was almost a shame that this one didn’t go in. Truly, it deserved to go in, at least from a neutral perspective. There’s nothing more aesthetically pleasing in the game of football than a perfectly executed overhead kick, and we saw one tonight from Aduriz. Leaping into the air, Aduriz connected beautifully with Markel Susaeta’s cross, only to be denied by the frame of Pinto’s goal.

Barcelona responded in kind, rattling the woodwork at the opposite end; but if Aduriz’ effort was a work of art, this shot from Alexis Sánchez was the polar opposite. In contrast to Aduriz, Sánchez’ chance was teed up perfectly – a low cross from Pedro left the Chilean with an open goal at his mercy and a nonchalant stab at the ball saw Alexis strike the crossbar when he should have hit the back of the net. It was a great chance – and one that went begging. Fittingly, Pedro nearly found goal with the rebound, as his curling shot, with the top corner as its preferred destination, fell onto the roof of Iraizoz’ net.

It truly was a wonder that the two teams were tied with less than ten minutes to play in the first-half. So many chances had been and gone. There was good passing, great movement, but still no goals. Alexis Sánchez tried to atone for his earlier miss on the 38th minute, stinging the palms of Gorka Iraizoz with a driven effort and Pedro too forced a good save moments later. Again, the pressure was building. But it was too late, for the first-half at least. The Athletic Bilbao defense had held firm, while the Barcelona defense too escaped the first period unscathed.

Would the second-half produce yet more entertainment, and perhaps a couple of goals?

As it turned out, it would. And we wouldn’t have to wait long for it either; the only problem was that the goal came at the wrong end, at least from our perspective. A weak aerial challenge from Alex Song allowed Athletic Bilbao to create the chance and a stumble from Marc Bartra gifted Aritz Aduriz the space to capitalise and get his shot off on goal. That was all he needed; the Basque striker has been in incredible form all season and he buried the chance, finding the bottom corner of Pinto’s net with a well-placed effort.

With an hour played at the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona was headed for a fourth successive defeat. Not that they hadn’t had yet more chances for an equaliser. Pedro was again denied by the feet of Gorka Iraizoz, who was in inspired form in the Bilbao goal. Then, the unthinkable happened again: Messi missed another one-on-one, this time dragging an effort wide.

The chances now were few and far between. Barcelona needed a fresh face, someone to shake things up; a Cristian Tello for Alexis Sánchez would have worked a treat, at least in this writer’s opinion. However, the clock ticked on, and the first change – eventually made on the 70th minute – was actually a like-for-like swap in midfield. Cesc Fàbregas entered the action; Xavi left the field with Andrés Iniesta assuming the captain’s armband.

The change worked a treat.

At least, it coincided with an equaliser; Dani Alves shrugged off recent criticism and the challenge of the Bilbao defense to nutmeg one defender and feed Alexis Sánchez, who characteristically scuffed his shot, dragging it well wide of the mark, but thankfully and mercifully right into the path of Pedro. Unlike Sánchez, Pedro has real goalscoring pedigree and a natural eye for goal, so he saw the chance and poked the ball in the opposite direction and into the corner of the net. Suddenly, the hope and confidence had returned – Barcelona were back.

And minutes later, they were ahead. A breathtaking run from Lionel Messi ended with a foul by Oscar de Marcos, and the Argentine stepped up and hammered home the resulting free-kick. It wasn’t perhaps as cleanly hit as some of his previous efforts, but Iraizoz couldn’t react in time and the quick-fire turnaround was complete.

So much for that crisis.

Next up, Barcelona travel down the coast to face Villarreal at El Madrigal, in what’s shaping up to be a tough fixture for the Blaugrana. Until then, Visca el Barça!

Roll Call Info
Total comments 552
Total commenters 25
Commenter list AL_LM10, Anders Thomassen, Barca.soldier007, Bostjan Cernensek, Christopher Kelly, Eddie Pundell, FCB4Ever, FCBblaug, Giancarlo8, Inder Methil, JBeck12, Maaz Rehman, NoImagination90, Ricardo Blonde, Som-i-Serem, Tokjee, Uncharted_Almo, ViscaViscaBarca, craig00000, cule-since-1992, dlapa, footballfordoze, magical_messi, rnmrqz, syredeathtrooper
Story URLs
# Commenter # Comments
1 NoImagination90 85
2 Anders Thomassen 66
3 Bostjan Cernensek 58
4 AL_LM10 41
5 syredeathtrooper 40
6 cule-since-1992 34
7 JBeck12 28
8 Som-i-Serem 23
9 magical_messi 21
10 craig00000 21

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