The atmosphere in Bilbao is always something else, and Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey quarter-final was no different.
Both teams emerged from the tunnel at San Mames to what can only be described as a cacophony of noise. A sound that was almost primal as the mostly Basque audience greeted their heroes.
Within a minute of the start Barca’s Achilles heel had already shown itself again, the Catalans going 1-0 down immediately.
It was symptomatic of Barca’s season, giving the visitors an uphill struggle if they wanted to put themselves into the hat for the semi-final.
Fortunately, Lady Luck was on hand to give Barça a helping hand to get a foothold in the match.
Robert Lewandowski just stuck out a leg as Athletic looked to clear, and as quick as a flash Xavi’s side were level.
It gave them the impetus they needed to up the tempo and start dictating play.
Whilst you wouldn’t say that Barça started to steamroller the hosts, there was a definite power shift and, as a result, it was no surprise when Lamine Yamal put them 2-1 up with a Messi-esque finish.
Lamine Yamal keeps breaking records:— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 24, 2024
✅ Youngest player to play and score for Barcelona
✅ Youngest player to play and score for Spain
✅ Youngest player to score in LALIGA history
✅ Youngest player to score in Spanish Super Cup history
✅ Youngest player to score for Barca in… pic.twitter.com/xTaw1bpa2g
When a player is that good at just 16 years of age, it’s hard not to get overexcited about what he offers the side.
There are definitely comparisons that can be drawn with Ansu Fati, however, and that should sound a warning for any culers already wanting to anoint him as the next Leo replacement.
By rights Yamal shouldn’t have even been playing in this game because he apparently has his exams to be undertaken later in the week.
That in itself brings his journey to this point into sharp focus. He’s just a baby and yet he’s already taking on the lion’s share of responsibility.
It’s as if everyone is already waiting to see what magic the youngster will come up with in any given match.
Are we in the presence of football greatness? No one can say for sure because Lamine has years to develop and hone his obvious talent.
That also means that pressure and critique shouldn’t be applied every time he pulls on the shirt.
To see reports where he has been blamed for the loss because of missing that late chance when rounding the keeper is a dangerous game to be playing indeed.
He was the main threat that Barca had for most of the night so any blame should be diverted elsewhere.
For example, a driving run in the 73rd minute to ease the incessant pressure on his side, and the simple balls that are often the hardest to play, suggested that his in-game intelligence is improving game by game and he is becoming an important cog in the wheel.
Some might say he’s already becoming this squad’s talisman, but let’s not even go there yet....