Barcelona finished the month of February in style and will remain in the La Liga Top 4 for another week thanks to a dominant 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou. Barça faced a weakened opponent but stayed professional and played solid football for 90 minutes, and scored four excellent goals to pick up three more points and continue to look strong in the race for a Champions League spot.
Marcelino García Toral made several changes to the Athletic side looking ahead to next Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final, so his gameplan with such a weakened team was to try and frustrated the Barça attack and take a 0-0 into the second half. And he very nearly succeeded in that strategy.
Despite having over 75% possession throughout the first half, Barça were not at their best offensively and struggled to create many meaningful attacks thanks to a mixture of their own wastefulness in the final third and a good, solid defensive structure by the visitors. Over the entire half Barça only created one real chance through open play, with Gavi finding himself all alone inside the box after a pass from Ferran Torres but missing the target completely and sending the ball high into the Camp Nou sky.
Even though they didn’t have any of their best attacking players on the pitch in the first half, Bilbao had their moments thanks to some defensive lapses by the Barça backline who didn’t choose the best times to step up their pressing and left big spaces that would have been exploited by a more talented team.
As we inched closer to halftime, it seemed as though Athletic would find a way to keep Barça away from their net, but the Blaugrana found the breakthrough on a set piece: Dani Alves sent a corner into the box, Gerard Piqué sent a powerful header into the crossbar, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacted quicker than everyone and volleyed home the opener.
At halftime Barça were not really at their best but still had a crucial one-goal lead, however they needed to step up their level because Athletic would not give up and had the chance to bring their big guns off the bench in the second half.
Barça remained the dominant side to start the second half, dealing well with a higher press from Athletic and having better control of the opposition’s counter-attacks, and they should have made it 2-0 when Ferran found himself all alone in front of the goalkeeper after a mistake by the Bilbao defense, but he shot it straight at Unai Simón and missed a big chance.
Torres was soon replaced by Ousmane Dembélé, who came on alongside Frenkie De Jong to try and put the game to bed. Both had an immediate impact with their movement and quality on the ball, and Dembélé scored an absolutely sensational goal with a rocket into the roof of the net from a tight angle inside the box to double Barça’s lead.
Athletic sent Iñaki Williams onto the pitch hoping their star striker would bring some kind of spark off the bench to make the game interesting in the final minutes, but Barça had things well under control and and added two more goals thanks to two fantastic assists by Dembélé, who put it on a plate for both Luuk De Jong and Memphis Depay to score off the bench in added time.
The final whistle came, and the Blaugrana continue to hold on to fourth place and have a game in hand on all the teams around them in the table, and they look better and stronger under Xavi wtih every game.
As Eminem would say, Barça’s back. Tell a friend.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Araujo, Piqué, Dest; Gavi (F. De Jong 67’), Busquets (Nico 86’), Pedri; Adama (Memphis 82’), Aubameyang (L. De Jong 86’), Ferran (Dembélé 67’)
Goals: Aubameyang (37’), Dembélé (73’), L. De Jong (90’), Memphis (90+3’)
Athletic: Simón; Lekue, Vivian, Yeray (Martínez 46’), Balenziaga; Zarraga (N. Williams 67’), Vencedor, Vesga (García 67’), Serrano; García (Sancet 46’), Villalibre (I. Williams 77’)