Barcelona finished the month of January on a high note, reaching 10 games in a row without a loss in La Liga thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win against Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou. Barça played a great first half, conceded a bad goal early in the second but continued to attack until Antoine Griezmann scored the winner and gave the Blaugrana three crucial points as they’ll finish the weekend equal on points with second place Real Madrid.
Barça were the better team from the beginning, matching Athletic’s physicality and intensity and not giving them any chance to play. The Blaugrana had the majority of possession and pressed high to recover the ball whenever they lost it, and Lionel Messi was especially active, chasing down opponents with the ball and always involved in everything.
He also scored a beautiful opening goal after a winning a free-kick at the edge of the box and placing a pearl of a curling shot into the top corner, without a chance for Unai Simón in the Bilbao goal. Barça continued to press and attack after the goal, and although they didn’t have a clear opportunity for a second they were always a threat.
Athletic simply couldn’t harm Barça’s defense, and found themselves chasing the game throughout the first half. At halftime, Barça had a narrow lead but were clearly the better team, and had a chance to stamp their authority in the second half.
The second half started with bad news for Barça as Jordi Alba scored an own goal after a cross from Raúl García, and it looked as though Athletic would gain momentum from the equalizer and cause more problems.
But Barça reacted well after conceding and continued to attack, with Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé creating real issues with their movement, and Messi was still just as aggressive — and had to deal with a few rough fouls as a result.
Just as the Blaugrana started running out of steam and looking a little less intense, the game-winner happened: Óscar Mingueza made a great full-back run, received an excellent pass from Dembélé and gave Griezmann a tap-in inside the six-yard box, and the Frenchman put Barça ahead with 15 minutes to go.
Bilbao desperately searched for a late equalizer but couldn’t come up with any real danger, and Barça managed to hang on and get all three points when the final whistle came. This was as tough and intense as expected, and Athletic kicked the living hell out of Barça again, but the Catalans are winners this time.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza, Araujo, Umtiti, Alba; Pjanic (Roberto 66’), De Jong, Pedri; Dembélé (Braithwaite 87’), Messi, Griezmann (Lenglet 84’)
Goals: Messi (20’), Griezmann (74’)
Athletic: Simón; Capa (Lekue 84’), Yeray, Martínez, Yuri; De Marcos (Berenguer 66’), Vencedor (Vesga 66’), D. García, Muniain; Williams (Villalibre 84’), R. García
Goal: Alba (49’ OG)