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La Liga: Athletic Club 2-5 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A blow-by-blow recap of Barcelona's thrilling 5-2 win over Athletic Club at San Mames, as goals from Lionel Messi (2), Luis Suarez, Neymar and Pedro helped the Blaugrana close the gap to league leaders Real Madrid

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

FC Barcelona were at their sensational best on Sunday evening, dismantling a resolute Athletic Bilbao defense time and time again en route to an emphatic 5-2 win at San Mames. Lionel Messi opened the scoring with a deflected free-kick, before Luis Suarez doubled Barça’s advantage with his first goal in over 400 minutes of football. Athletic looked to have got back in the contest through Mikel Rico’s goal on the hour mark, but Barça responded with goals from Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Aritz Aduriz again reduced the deficit, but there was to be no famous comeback. Xabier Etxeita saw red for his brutal challenge on Luis Suarez before late substitute Pedro helped himself to a goal to emphasise the gulf in class between the two sides. With this win, Barcelona close the gap to league leaders Real Madrid to just a single point.

Athletic Club





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Luis Enrique made three changes to the team that defeated Villarreal CF last weekend at the Camp Nou; Jeremy Mathieu replaced Javier Mascherano in the heart of defense to add a little extra height and pace to the backline, while Xavi and Ivan Rakitić replaced Andrés Iniesta and Rafinha Alcântara in midfield. This suggested a more measured approach would be taken by the Blaugrana in midfield as opposed to the hectic style we witnessed against the Yellow Submarine. With Athletic Bilbao coach, Ernesto Valverde committing to a high-intensity press, would these changes help or hinder Barça as they looked to close the gap on Real Madrid?


In truth, Barcelona started the match rather shakily. The atmosphere was hostile, the pitch wasn’t perfect (although it wasn’t quite as bad as it has been in previous visits) and the opposition were fired up and pushing the tempo early. Cue a few misplaced passes from the Barça contingent and a couple of instances of poor control inviting some early pressure.

Still, Barcelona survived this start to settle down into their usual style relatively quickly – by the 10 minute mark, we’d got our foot on the ball, were dominating possession and starting to probe in the hope of finding an opening in the resolute Athletic defense. Our first few attacks were met by some physical resistance shall we say, as the Basques made their mark on Luis Suarez and Neymar with some heavy challenges.

On the opposite side of the attack, Lionel Messi was yet to involve himself in proceedings, quietly lingering towards the right flank, hugging the touchline to try and stretch the Athletic defense – or perhaps escape their line of sight? While Suarez and Neymar were making their presence known, Messi was biding his time, ready to strike when the moment presented itself. That moment as it turned out, would present itself in the 15th minute.

A foolish handball from Iker Muniain invited the pressure, gifting Barça with a set-piece fully 30 yards from goal. It was right of centre in prime "Lionel Messi territory", and yes, Xavi was there as well, but we all knew that this was one for the Argentine. It probably wasn’t his best effort, but having taken a deflection off the Athletic wall, Gorka Iraizoz was wrong-footed and couldn’t keep it out. The crowd were silenced – Barça were ahead.

By way of a response, Athletic looked to even the score almost immediately and they very nearly succeeded – a cross was floated in from the left to the back post where Aritz Aduriz was waiting. The Basque striker was just one goal away from his 100th in La Liga, and he looked set to notch it with a fine header until Claudio Bravo swiftly moved across goal to tip the shot round the post for a corner kick.

It was a phenomenal save, but even that paled in comparison to what we saw minutes later; at the other end Gorka Iraizoz had seen his old rival stop a goalbound header and figured he could go one better. For Barcelona, the fabled triumvirate were all involved. Neymar instigated the move with a fine backheel to find Lionel Messi in space on the left-wing. The Argentine launched the ball across goal with an inviting cross to find Luis Suarez unmarked at the far post.

The Uruguayan had a free header. The chance had "goal" written all over it, but somehow, someway, Iraizoz scrambled across goal to spectacularly tip the header over the crossbar. Truly, it was a world-class save, amongst the best of this La Liga season and Suarez was left shaking his head, wondering what more he needed to do to get back on the scoresheet.

Barça were growing in confidence and the width of our attacking line was key to our superiority, enabling us to stretch the Athletic defense and create a plethora of chances. This next one fell to Xavi and was created by Neymar who received possession on the edge of the area, put his hands on his hips and waited. He was taunting his marker, goading him into making a mistake, and to his credit, de Marcos didn’t bite. So, Neymar improvised and stabbed a low cross into the area to find the run of Xavi who sent a diving header over the bar.

At the other end, the next chance of note fell to the hosts. Much like Barcelona opened the scoring with a free-kick, Athletic fancied their chances with one of their own. A similar distance from goal and arguably a better strike, Markel Susaeta’s venomous shot was destined for the top corner of the net until Bravo acrobatically turned it round the post. More incredible goalkeeping – but with the quality of the players on the field, this was never going to last indefinitely.

Indeed, Barça doubled their lead after 26 minutes with what is now becoming a trademark counter-attack. A long ball to Neymar, who rose well to direct a header on to Suarez; Suarez in turn found Messi, who plays it back with a teasing lay-off. It was similar to one of our chances last week, but this time Suarez would not be denied. Power, placement – this shot had it all, and was just too hot for Iraizoz to handle. Try as he might, he couldn’t palm this one round the post and Suarez was finally back amongst the goals.

Really, Barça should have made it three on the half-hour mark just minutes later; Messi was involved again, helping it round his marker to split the Athletic defense and find the run of Xavi. The Catalan midfielder kept his composure to round the keeper, but in the process, narrowed the angle such that it was now too tight for him to go for goal himself. Selfless as per usual, Xavi prodded the ball back across goal to Neymar, but as the Brazilian applied the finishing touch his shot was blocked by Aymeric Laporte.

Barça were in complete control but one momentary lapse threatened to "ruin" it all. A miscommunication between Gerard Piqué and Claudio Bravo culminated in the Catalan defender mistakenly heading a cross that Bravo looked set to claim. Cue panic in the Barcelona defense and Aritz Aduriz looked to capitalise.

Leaping well above Jeremy Mathieu, the strong centre-forward powered a header at goal, only this time he was denied by the frame of the goal as his effort rattled the base of the post. It was breathless stuff at San Mames but all that mattered was the scoreline. At the interval, Barça were two goals to the good – Real Madrid’s deficit looked set to crumble.


Even with the half-time break, it was like play had never been stopped when the two teams reappeared for the second 45 minutes. The tempo was incredible and it wasn’t long before both sides started to create chances again. Superb last-ditch defending from the hosts prevented Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitić from converting their chances early in the second-half, while their own inaccuracy and profligacy stopped Athletic from halving the deficit. A fine cross from Oscar de Marcos found Unai Lopez in space at the far-post. The goal was gaping yet Unai still couldn’t convert with a poor side-footed shot.

Athletic wouldn’t make the same mistake twice though. They’d started the second-half well and finally got a goal to show for their efforts in the 59th minute. Unai Lopez’ through ball created a chance for Aduriz to strike at goal; his effort was on target and forced a fine save from Claudio Bravo, but the rebound fell kindly for Mikel Rico to duly prod the ball into the empty net.

Just like that, Athletic were back in the game. The crowd were on their feet having found their voice once again – but within moments Barça nearly restored their two goal lead. Perhaps they should have as well – Messi received a pass from Neymar in the Athletic area and fired at goal. The camera angle was deceptive – it almost seemed like Messi had found the back of the net with a powerful strike, but in reality his shot had gone inches wide and while the net was rippling, it was only because the ball had rebounded into the net off the advertising hoarding behind the goal.

But like Athletic, Barça wouldn’t make the same mistake twice either. The hosts were pressing forward in search of an equaliser, but in the process they were leaving themselves open to counter-attacks – and when you’re facing a team featuring Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar, that’s generally not good. Ivan Rakitić had the vision to spot Suarez in space on the right – and this time the Uruguayan turned creator, lifting a cross past Iraizoz to the back-post where Messi applied the finish. Normal service was resumed at San Mames.

Within minutes, Barcelona scored their fourth. Another counter-attack, another goal. Working the ball across the frontline with speed and precision, Rakitić, Messi and Suarez were all involved, but Xavi ultimately got the assist with a fine pass to our man on the overlap, Neymar. The Brazilian has been in incredible form this season and his finish demonstrated the confidence that he is playing with at the moment, as he arrowed the ball into the far corner of the net. From hope to despair in a matter of minutes, Athletic surely had no chance of securing a result now?

Still, they accepted the challenge and were going to give it their all. They’d probably come up short, but what harm was there in trying? After hitting the post and forcing two fine saves from Bravo earlier in the match, Aritz Aduriz got the goal that his performance deserved and in some style too with a brilliant, clinical finish to beat Bravo at his near post.

Four goals in seven was hard to keep pace with the action and Luis Enrique sensed it was time to make some changes to slow the tempo. Xavi made way to a standing ovation from the Basque crowd, Rafinha was his replacement.

In the 75th minute, Bilbao’s physical play crossed the line. A late challenge from Xabier Etxeita floored Luis Suarez, and Mathieu Lahoz immediately reached in his pocket and produced a straight red card. A replay of the challenge revealed why Lahoz was so swift with his punishment; Etxeita made no attempt to play the ball, rather he was aiming for Suarez’ knee when he went in studs first. A real horror challenge from the Basque defender, somewhat spoiling what had been a tremendous match of football.

Suarez was soon withdrawn for Pedro and this time, the substitution did effectively signal the end of the match as a contest. Athletic were beaten; Barcelona were content with their advantage and looked set to play out the clock. However, such was their dominance and superiority that Barça still created chances – and even grabbed another goal, their fifth of the evening, in the closing stages. Sergio Busquets joined the attack and got himself an assist for his troubles, squaring the ball to Pedro for a tap-in after another exceptional pass from Lionel Messi.

We hadn’t won our away La Liga fixture against Athletic Bilbao for the past three seasons. Now, here we were, scoring five goals and utterly dominating en route to another emphatic win. Watch out Real Madrid, we’re coming for you.

Next up, FC Barcelona return to Copa del Rey action when they take on Villarreal at the Camp Nou ; until then, Visca el Barça!

Roll Call Info
Total comments 680
Total commenters 59
Commenter list Abdul95, Anders Thomassen, Anirudh_Kul, AraibKarim, Arnau22S, Aveblaugrana, Barcacatalunya, ChalkLitIScream, Chatchai Chotiput, Daxterflames, Delano Heerkens, Diehardsupporter, El_Illusionista, FCB4Ever, FCB4Lyfe, FCB_Z8, Imalwaysofftopic, Inder Methil, JordiBalboa, JoseM14, KiwiBarca, Lapulga, LotusV3, Mauste, PG9, Piquénbauer, Prcho, Rajesh1101s, Richzorz, Ruy Diaz, Som-i-Serem, Staralfur, Steven Cordero, The Art of Boxing, TheOnlyPtolemy, VarkeychanT, ViscaViscaBarca, Waje.y, Willis1984, Youssefyasser, Z Ahmad, abdulla0207, abhi3pie, compneeyah, craig00000, dariog, defeaning_silence, dinoFCBarca, dinoh, feeya7, footballfordoze, hdp78, jithen, llamas612, messism, msalmanz, saijaikumar, semperty, syredeathtrooper
Story URLs
# Commenter # Comments
1 Delano Heerkens 108
2 Willis1984 41
3 Anders Thomassen 40
4 Som-i-Serem 38
5 dinoh 38
6 KiwiBarca 33
7 AraibKarim 26
8 jithen 26
9 LotusV3 24
10 Richzorz 24
11 Steven Cordero 15
12 craig00000 14
13 PG9 14
14 Ruy Diaz 13
15 dinoFCBarca 12
16 Daxterflames 12
17 Staralfur 12
18 Youssefyasser 11
19 dariog 11
20 Lapulga 10
21 The Art of Boxing 10
22 abdulla0207 10
23 feeya7 9
24 hdp78 9
25 ChalkLitIScream 8
26 Rajesh1101s 8
27 JordiBalboa 8
28 Z Ahmad 7
29 FCB4Lyfe 7
30 semperty 7
31 Abdul95 6
32 msalmanz 6
33 Waje.y 5
34 Barcacatalunya 5
35 Arnau22S 5
36 Aveblaugrana 4
37 Mauste 4
38 FCB4Ever 4
39 syredeathtrooper 3
40 ViscaViscaBarca 3
41 messism 3
42 FCB_Z8 3
43 El_Illusionista 2
44 saijaikumar 2
45 defeaning_silence 2
46 Diehardsupporter 2
47 Imalwaysofftopic 2
48 compneeyah 2
49 Anirudh_Kul 2
50 Piquénbauer 1
51 JoseM14 1
52 Chatchai Chotiput 1
53 Inder Methil 1
54 llamas612 1
55 footballfordoze 1
56 abhi3pie 1
57 Prcho 1
58 VarkeychanT 1
59 TheOnlyPtolemy 1

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