Barcelona returned to winning ways in La Liga with a tense 1-0 victory over a tough Athletic Bilbao team at Camp Nou on Tuesday. The Blaugrana were awful for 55 minutes but improved a lot thanks to good substitutions by Quique Setién, and Ivan Rakitic scored the winner to claim three crucial points for the champions.
Barça made a solid start to the game, with a clear attempt to play a more direct, progressive passing style to try and create more chances, and Luis Suárez had two shots in the first 10 minutes. Things were looking good, and the pressing after losing possession was the most impressive part of the early going.
Slowly but surely, however, Barça started to drop their intensity and Athletic grew into the game with more possession, tons of speed on the counter and a couple of very dangerous chances with Yeray and Iñaki Williams, but both missed in front of goal.
After the water break in the half-hour mark Barça started to have more possession again, but Athletic settled into a well organized low block and didn’t allow the Blaugrana to have any joy around the box, with the home team once again struggling to show any creativity in the final third.
At halftime, Barça were playing slow, boring football, and Athletic were the better team.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were just as boring and frustrating from Barça, but Quique Setién made a good substitution: Riqui Puig came on for Arthur and instantly added energy and positive passing and movement to the team, and Barça began to improve.
Shortly after that Ivan Rakitic and Ansu Fati came on with loads of energy as well, and Barça started to create. The goal came with 20 minutes to go, when Rakitic practically robbed the ball from Messi inside the box and found the back of the net, and the Blaugrana finally had the lead.
Barça were clearly more relaxed after scoring and there was a swagger about them in the final minutes, and there were quite a few chances to score the second but a combination of poor finishing and really good goalkeeping by Unai Simón stopped Barça from doubling their lead.
The final whistle came to end a performance that started terribly but got much better and deserved more than just the one goal. Turns out Barcelona can be a dynamic, creative team after all. They just need to have dynamic, creative players on the pitch.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Vidal, Busquets (Rakitic 64’), Arthur (Puig 55’); Messi, Suárez (Braithwaite 85’), Griezmann (Ansu Fati 64’)
Goal: Rakitic (71’)
Athletic: Simón; De Marcos, Núñez, Yeray, Balenziaga; López (García 57’), Vesga; Lekue (Capa 69’), Sancet (R. García 78’), Córdoba (Muniain 57’); Williams (Villalibre 69’)