Barcelona successfully maintained the momentum from the midweek win over Villarreal thanks to a dominant 4-0 triumph against Athletic Bilbao at the Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday night. Barça were fully in control from start to finish, scored four very good goals behind a masterful performance by Ousmane Dembélé and thoroughly dominated a good Bilbao side to win their second in a row in the league.
Xavi Hernández surprised with his team selection as he picked four midfielders, and there were more changes as the team came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation for the first time since the early Ronald Koeman days to dominate the center of the park and have as much creativity on the pitch as possible.
Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic also came out in a 4-2-3-1 but were very defensive, not pressing high as they usually do and trying to deny spaces close to their goal. The plan worked for the first 10 minutes, but the next 10 did not go so well for the away team.
Barça had a dream sequence in which they scored three very good goals between the 12th and 22nd minute: the first came after a shot from Ousmane Dembélé was saved by Unai Simón, and Robert Lewandowski picked up the rebound and played a perfect cross into the box to find Dembélé who scored a rare header to put the visitors in front.
The next two goals came thanks to the Frenkie de Jong-Sergio Busquets double pivot: the duo orchestrated a couple of sensational passing sequences to break the Athletic press and sent the team on lightning-quick attacks, and both ended with an assist by Dembélé and goals by Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski to make it 3-0.
The final 20 minutes of the half didn’t feature a lot of action as Bilbao couldn’t create any meaningful offense while Barça remained in control by keeping the ball and not taking unnecessary risks.
At halftime Barça were in complete control and 45 minutes away from an excellent victory if they could finish the job in the final period.
Barça approached the second half the same way as they did against Villarreal: protect the big lead with smart football and not allow the opposition to have any hopes of getting back in the game.
The Blaugrana dropped back when needed and gave the ball to the visitors, and as Athletic struggled to create any meaningful offense they also left huge spaces in behind for the Catalans to counter.
And Barça had a lot of joy on the fast break, creating plenty of big chances against a desperate Bilbao backline that didn’t know how to handle the Blaugrana cavalry. But goalkeeper Unai Simón did a good job of keeping Barça from scoring, until the 73rd minute when Dembélé completed his hat-trick of assists with a pass to Ferran Torres who came off the bench to score the fourth and make the crowd even happier.
Barça were forced to play the final few minutes with 10 men after Sergi Roberto suffered an unfortunate shoulder injury after Xavi had already made all five substitutions, but the home team managed to keep the clean sheet thanks in large part to two goal-line clearances on the same play by Sergio Busquets and Eric García.
The final whistle came to make it two wins in a row for Barça, who have beat two good teams by a combined score of 7-0 in a span of three days. It was just the reaction this team needed after the ugly events of last week, and Xavi has offered good tactical responses and been an important part of two very good performances.
As Xavi himself likes to say, this is the way.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde (Alonso 63’), Eric, Balde; Busquets, De Jong; Dembélé (Torre 77’), Gavi (Kessie 33’), Pedri (Ferran 63’); Lewandowski (Fati 63’)
Goals: Dembélé (12’), S. Roberto (18’), Lewandowski (22’), Ferran (73’)
Athletic: Simón; De Marcos (Lekue 60’), Yeray, Martínez, Yuri; Vesga, Herrera (D. García 21’ (Sancet 60’)); N. Williams, Zarraga (Vencedor 70’), Berenguer; I. Williams (R. García 70’)