How important will this result be come the end of the season?
Goals from an in-form David Villa and a late winner by the great Lionel Messi were enough to see off the challenge of an always difficult Athletic Bilbao side, who were level for the majority of the second half after Andoni Iraiola converted a penalty after Llorente was up-ended by Busquets.
Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao 2-1 - All Goals & Full Highlights - 20/2/2011 (via RealGoalsHD)
Barca started off well, with the swagger of champions in fact, and the break through came as early as 4 minutes, as Xavi played a ball over the top of the Bilbao defence to a perfectly timed run by Dani Alves, who squared it back to Villa, who made no mistake with the finish.
At this point, I was thinking a return to "Manita" form was on the cards but a mixture of sloppy passing, poor movement and good defending by the Basques kept the score at 1-0.
However, on the 26th minute, Villa, who is finally coming to the fray as a Barca player, nearly made it two with a deft chip that unfortunately bounced off the bar. It really deserved a goal, and with his "weaker" left foot it was a moment of pure brilliance by the Spaniard.
The attacking players may have been getting the job done, but the defence were striving to undo it, as Pique was left behind by the close control of Llorente who got his cross in, but Bilbao failed to even get the header on target.
Busquets was looking good going forward, but defensively, was looking out of place, and around the 35th minute, Llorente was given a free-header inside the box, but Pinto who deputised for the injured Valdes, and if the reports are true, will continue to do so for the next 6 weeks, was equal to it with a Gordon Banks-Pele style save.
If he continues to play like that, no-one will be too concerned by the injury to Valdes.
Second half, Bilbao changed their formation with the introduction of Toquero as a second striker. The change seemed to throw an already faltering defence, and a moment of craziness by the usually faultless Abidal left Busquets stretching, and his tackle on Llorente (God damn him!) gave away a penalty which Iraola made no mistake with.
Though, after seeing the replays, I’m not too sure whether Busquets got the ball first.
Never mind, oh wait, the defence lost the ball again, and Pique brings down Toquero for a free-kick. Pique is a great player, but seems to get worse without Puyol alongside him, so let’s hope Puyol is not too far from a return.
Barca were now heading for a draw, and I was beginning to lose faith, especially after Messi, who finally sprung into life with a phenomenal run, was scythed down in the penalty area and everyone in the ground were thinking penalty, oh…wait the man who matters doesn’t!
A poor decision by the ref, but did Messi complain? No, sir. He just got up and got on with it, unlike a certain Portuguese player would have.
The penalty decision sparked the team into life, Messi in particular, and after many blocked shots, and Villa going close again, the goal finally came. It was a kick in the gut to a Bilbao side that were good money for a point, considering the effort they had put in, but football is not won with effort but with goals, and the goal came from the goal scoring king Leo Messi.
It was his 41st (!) of the season, and assisted once again, by Dani Alves. The Xavi-Dani partnership was working well in the game, so it was no surprise it paid dividends for a second time. After the goal, the Blaugrana turned on the style, ramped it up a gear, and could have added more, but for some great keeping by Iraizoz.
This was not a vintage Barcelona performance, but one that showed great heart, grit and determination against the toughest of sides. My criticism of Barca versus Arsenal, and Gijon was the lack of heart, and by God did they respond to that. Messi looks to be heading back to form, and with Villa coming to prominence, the future is once again looking rosy for Pep Guardiola and his players.