Barcelona won the opening match of the 2015-16 season in difficult fashion, battling until the end to get a narrow 1-0 victory at the always tough San Mamés against a warrior Athletic Bilbao. In a game full of referee mistakes, injuries and bad football, the Blaugrana got the job done, which is all that matters.
The first 45 minutes, apart from a few seconds of excitement/disappointment, were one of the most boring, badly officiated, unwatchable halves in recent history. Instead of doing the expected, Athletic decided to sit back and not press high for at least 80% of the game. That seemed to have caught Barça, presumably prepared to find alternatives to the full-court press, completely off guard. The Bilbao midfielders locked Iniesta and Rakitic down, which resulted in the Blaugrana having to use the center-backs and Busquets to try and create something.
To make things worse, Dani Alves injured himself and had to come off. His replacement, Sergi Roberto, however, had a very good impact, providing a good offensive threat on the right side. But the creativity still didn’t show up, and the Catalans eventually found a weird penalty, which Messi missed.
My god, that was boring.
After a very unexciting half, we finally got to see a true football match after halftime, especially from Barça. The Blaugranes were much better, with better passes, greater player movement and overall higher intensity. The injury to left-back Balenziaga weakened Los Leones on defense, and Barça instantly took advantage. A spectacular Rakitic lob found Jordi Alba, who crossed it to Luis Suárez, and the Uruguayan buried home the first score with a powerful left-footed shot.
With the goal came a lot more confidence, and the Blaugrana started to finally dominate, pin Athletic down on their half and create chances, which included a beautiful shot by Roberto, who hit the crossbar. But another injury affected the game heavily. Aduriz stepped on Busquets’ ankle, and the midfielder had to leave for Bartra. Bilbao had no chance but to blitz in search of the equalizer, but a strong defensive display by Thomas Vermaelen alongside his partners secured a tough, but huge victory to start La Liga with a much-needed win.
Even better, Barça had their first clean sheet in almost four months (official games only), which is very comforting.
Barcelona: Bravo; Alves (Roberto), Mascherano, Vermaelen, Alba; Busquets (Bartra), Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Rafinha (Sandro)
Goal: Suárez (54’)
Athletic: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Elustondo, Laporte, Balenziaga (Bóveda); Mikel Rico (Gurpegi), Beñat, Eraso; Susaeta, Aduriz, Sabin Merino (Ibai Gómez)