Barcelona made a winning return from the international break, remain unbeaten this season and are now just one point behind the La Liga leaders thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Sunday night. Despite missing several key pieces due to injury Barça played very well all night and created plenty of really good chances, but needed to wait 80 minutes until 17-year-old Marc Guiu came off the bench to make a dream debut and give the home team three crucial points against a very good Bilbao side.
Despite being the visitors on the night Athletic wasted no time trying to bring a threat to the Barça defense, taking initiative from the get-go with high pressing to win the ball quickly and fast passing sequences in the final third to create spaces and find opportunities to fire at goal.
Iñaki Williams had the first shot on target of the contest that required a comfortable save by Marc-André ter Stegen, but the two best chances of the game in the first 15 minutes came from the home team as João Félix hit the crossbar after a cross from Ferran Torres and Fermín López almost scored the opener with a strike inside the box that was brilliantly saved by Unai Simón with his foot.
After weathering the early storm and creating chances of their own on the counter Barça finally started to have more control of the ball in the attacking half, forcing Athletic to retreat and defend deeper as the Blaugrana used intelligent movement in the final third and quick, incisive passing to generate some good offense as we reached the half-hour mark.
The final 15 minutes belonged to Athletic: the visitors began to use their countet-attacking prowess to exploit the spaces left in behind by Barça when the Blaugrana pushed too many men forward and Nico Williams could have easily scored the opener towards the end of the half when he found himself all alone inside the box with time and space to shoot, but a brilliant save by Ter Stegen stopped Athletic from breaking the deadlock.
At the break the game was goalless but competitive and well played between two good teams, and it was impossible to predict a winner going into the second half.
Barça made a very good start to the final period, moving the ball quickly and finding spaces with well-timed runs in behind the defense and some nice long balls over the top from the midfielders and defenders. Unai Simón had to make three important interventions in the first 15 minutes, including a huge double save to stop Félix and Fermín from scoring.
Xavi Hernández made changes at the hour mark looking to maintain the momentum, with Lamine Yamal and Ronald Araujo coming off the bench and a more attacking setup with three midfielders and three attackers. Yamal had a massive chance just a couple of minutes into his cameo after a great run and pass by Félix, but the 16-year-old dragged his shot wide and failed to convert one of Barça’s best opportunities on the night.
The Blaugrana continued to dominate the ball and looked like the team most likely to score as we reached the final 15 minutes plus stoppage time, but with Athletic defending well and Simón saving seemingly every shot the home team would need a moment of individual magic to finally break the deadlock.
Xavi made two more changes with 10 minutes to go, including the debut of promising academy striker Marc Guiu. And it was the 17-year-old who provided that much-needed touch of magic as he made the run in behind the defense, received a beautiful through ball from João Félix and showed great composure to beat Simón and score his first goal for Barça less than 60 seconds into his debut in a truly amazing moment at Montjuïc.
Barça had finally earned a valuable lead they deserved but there was still time left and Athletic had nothing left to lose, and the visitors sent as many bodies forward as possible looking for a late equalizer. Barça defended their lead very well, however, and never allowed a true opportunity to the visitors until the final whistle came to confirm their victory.
This was a very good night considering all the absences and how well Athletic played on both ends, especially in the first half. But Barça were the better team and deserved the win, and a special moment for Marc Guiu rewarded Xavi’s faith in the youth. Barça will never, ever stop producing good players, and another one made a name for himself tonight.
Well done, boys!
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Christensen (Araujo 60’), Iñigo, Balde (Alonso 79’); Gavi, Romeu (Yamal 60’), Gündogan; Ferran, Félix, Fermín (Guiu 79’)
Goal: Guiu (80’)
Athletic: Simón; De Marcos, Vivian, Paredes, Yuri (Lekue 26’); Galarreta (Prados 67’), García (Unai G. 76’); I. Williams, Sancet, N. Williams (Berenguer 76’); Guruzeta (Ares 67’)