Barça 2 Athletic Bilbao 1

Barça showed good character tonight to overcome a spirited Athletic Bilbao in a tight game at Camp Nou.  Following the draw last week at Sporting and the defeat at Arsenal, things were not looking good after Athletic equalized David Villa’s early goal, and with the minutes ticking away one could begin to imagine the headlines of a Barça crisis if we didn’t win this one but Leo Messi popped up to grab the winner in the 78th minute to maintain our five-point advantage over closest rivals Real Madrid.

The big news before the game was the injury to Victor Valdés’s left knee which could see him out of action for two weeks. He could be back in time for the game with Zaragoza and if nothing goes wrong there should be no problem to have him back against Arsenal though we will miss him for the difficult trips to Mallorca and Valencia. We are also still missing Carles Puyol and there is no clear indication of when he’ll be ok again. Today Pep Guardiola decided to play Sergio Busquets at centre back with mixed results, in the first half especially we saw some very interesting tactical changes with Busquets pushing into midfield at times and also switching positions with Eric Abidal. It often gave us a man over in midfield which meant we had no problem in keeping the ball for long periods but perhaps the tactics were just a little too elaborate as Athletic had two excellent chances in the first half to score, though this could also be down to Piqué having an off day.

The other main tactical point of note was that Pedro played wide on the left with Villa in the middle with Messi playing a deeper wandering role. This left the right wing with nobody but Alves, and our Brazilian full back attacked this space to great effect throughout the game. In the 4th minute a tpical patient build-up found Xavi with the ball 35 yards out moving towards the left, with a swift manouever Xavi doubled back on himself and sent a splendid pass for Alves’s run, Alves may have been an inch offside but the linesman’s flag stayed down and he received the ball with a volleyed square pass that found Villa steaming in to fire home with power and precision. It was Vila’s fourth goal in four games and he is really beginning to look the part now. Later in the first half Villa again showed how dangerous he is receiving a pass from deep before chipping the ball over the keeper and onto the crossbar.

We seemed to be in perfect control of the game but Llorente caused us problems, first with a dribble past Piqué before setting up Susaeta for a header which Pinto touched round the post, and not long before half time it was Llorente who got above Busquets to meet Gabilondo’s cross and Pinto had to make a very good save throwing himself to the left. Maybe we should have taken the warning but we continued to look a little excentric at the back. At half time Athletic brought on Toquero which meant more pressure on our defenders. Early in the second half we again tried to play our way out of a tight corner at the back and Abidal gave a loose ball to Busquets who let the ball run with Llorente sneaking behind him, Busquets reacted by lunging for the ball and he appeared to make contact before his follow-through sent Llorente flying, it was a bit clumsy but we were perhaps a little unlucky that the ref pointed to the spot. Iraola was not put off by Pinto’s games on the line and he blasted the penalty firmly into the corner for the equaliser.

It should be said that we did not find it easy after Athletic’s goal. They fought very hard and for a while we looked shaky. Piqué’s lack of concentration gave the ball away to Toquero and Piqué was lucky to only see yellow for his subsequent foul. Toquero was then unlucky to get called back by the linesman’s flag when he was going through again. In attack we tended to try to go through the middle too much, and despite the undoubted genius of Messi and Iniesta dribbling past three players wins you nothing if there isn’t a finish. Some of the runs from this pair were remarkable, the one from Messi in the 58th minute, going past four before being clearly brought down by Javi Martinez, was simply brilliant, but perhaps Messi was just so fast the ref couldn’t follow the play which can be the only reason he missed such a clear penalty. Guardiola decided enough was enough and switched Busquets back to midfield with Maxwell coming on for Mascherano. We looked more comfortable after this but our attacks were too often still going through the middle.

Messi and Iniesta may have provided the dribbling skills, but it was the other Ballon d’Or candidate Xavi who showed he is the master of the pass. In the 70th minute he sent one through for Villa who was only denied by the goalkeeper’s fingertips. Then in the 78th minute it was Xavi again who found the pass forward to Alves who was forward yet again, this time to provide a low cross to the near post where Messi flicked it in for his 25th Liga goal of the season. Athletic had little reaction after the goal and the result did not look in danger in the final minutes, Messi and Iniesta both had time for another run each, Messi going past the entire defence diagonally from right to left before being denied again by a good save.

Barça: Pinto 7.5; Alves 8.5, Piqué 5, Busquets 6.5, Abidal 7; Xavi 8.5, Mascherano 6.5, Iniesta 7.5; Pedro 6.5, Messi 7.5, Villa 8.

Goals: m4 Villa 1-0, m50 Iraola (pen) 1-1, m78 Messi 2-1

Barça yellows: m33 Alves, m49 Busquets, m51 Piqué.

Attendance: 83,533

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7 Responses to Barça 2 Athletic Bilbao 1

  1. Lee says:

    “Alves may have been in inch offsides.” Um, more like a foot. Be objective. And don’t get me wrong: Alves is the unsung of the heart of the team, but blatant offside at home for Barca is the same as blatant offside at home for Real, and both teams are good enough to win honestly. At least the ref tired to overcompensate later.

  2. bc9jaCulé says:

    A sigh of relief @ last! We couldn’t bury most of our excellent runs @ the back of the net but I must commend our boys for the way they switched to ‘turbo mode’ after the equalizin’ goal. In fact, last night’s encounter was reminiscent of those we won by a 3/4-goal margin and our boys are beginnin’ to look more like their actual selves.

    Special Mentions:

    1) Pique’s concentration seems to be fadin’ @ an alarmin’ rate. Does it have anythin’ to do with his involvement with Shakira and the media? If so, then maybe he should let go and opt for a far less famous personality.

    2) Busquets also needs to be more alert and focused when called upon to pair up @ CB. Some of his antics could pass @ DM, but certainly not directly in front of your ‘keeper or in your own box. That penalty was totally avoidable because all he had to do was anticipate that backpass with full concentration. Instead, he carelessly let it slip past him.

    3) The rate @ which we are being denied our justified penalty calls is quite disturbin’. Nic, Messi’s play might have been too fast for the ref to comprehend every scene of the proceedings but were the assistant referees on both sides of the pitch blind too? Unless somethin’ concrete is done about this, I’ll continue to see a chunk of the Liga match officials as anti–barça (Madridistas).

    4) Abidal was exceptional. Again!!! He switched flanks excellently, coverin’ almost for everyone in the defence while also linkin’ well with the midfield. King Abi!!!

    All the same, it was a well–deserved victory and here’s hopin’ the boys will just leap into their best form after this win.

    Força Barça!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Caleb says:

    I really hope we resign Alves. I mean, he drives me a little crazy with poor passes sometimes, but he really is invaluable. So often our plays would be dead if it weren’t for him getting all the way up field to find the open space…. I still don’t think we’d be able to replace him cheaply or easily.

    Anyway, this was a very valuable victory. Let’s not forget Bilbao has been tough for us other times we’ve played them this season. They’ve earned our respect and this must be seen as a good, hard-fought result.

  4. blaugranaboy says:

    well, the result is the most important thing tonight. i was feeling desperately frustrated at 1-1 with just 15 minutes to go. i feared another unhappy result.

    but, i agree we showed character to keep on going and finally getting the goal. tonight, thats seriously the most important thing.

    however, i will raise some concerns. and im not one to push panic buttons quick and im by no means the knee jerk reaction man. i also acknowledge that bilbao are no pushovers and worked their socks off.

    but i think we look jaded. i dont know if its a fitness thing or a mental tiredness, expectations too high, but our touches look heavy, the short sprints seem that bit off, the passes just that inch short, the degreed runs arent working out. xavi even got hustled off the ball a few times, i couldnt believe it! (bit of sarcasm guys). messi also let his hunger and frustration get the better at him with a few just rash shots in stead of his usual controlled technique. nevertheless, his few run were incredible and i cannot believe he didnt get that pen. some have also raised the concern about pique. now i dont want to say its the whole shakira business, but really, he isnt looking his number one defender in the world self. busquets didnt have his best game, but being out of position and the fact he was one of the best players in the arsenal game, so he gets a pass.

    now look, i know we hold our team to a higher standard, and some think its an unrealistic way of looking at football. i know this. but the team has set their own standards and in football, just like in life, you get judged against the standards you set. we can get better, and we need to get better. maybe the players need a few days rest, i dont know. i want to see how the next game goes.

    on the good side, well, come on guys, ABIDAL. he doesnt score 50 goals a year, he doesnt make the crazy passes and touches, but he could easily be a candidate for player of the season. he has been THE most consistent player, bar none. im totally loving him. iniesta was pretty awesome though 2nd half hey. really took it at them.

    i agree with caleb above too. alves can be so frustrating with the amount of ball he gets but the small completion percentage he makes, but, he is invaluable. yes. invaluable. that doesnt mean i agree in the least with the type of money he is asking, but, i think we should try to keep him cause he is one of a kind.

  5. barcacentralomer says:

    Its amazing how a couple of bad results can suddenly start alarm bells ringing and this result will for the time being, halt the panic attacks some of us might have been experiencing.

    After yesterday’s performance at home against Bilbao, IMO our defensive line esp our CBs are woefully out of form and perhaps even out of luck. Pique’s pathetic displays of late coupled with the injury to Captain Courageous / Puyol and the fitness issues of Milito mean we have had to play our best defender aka Abidal out of position. Plus even when we do have to rotate Abidal, we put in another of our starting XI regulars – Busquets out of his favored position at CB. I don’t understand why we can’t take a few risks in the home games and play one of Bartra/Fontas in the CB role and see how it goes. They will make mistakes but as we saw with Sergei conceding a penalty, so will the makeshift CBs like Busquets.

    I’m also a subscriber to the viewpoint that our side has looked jaded of late. Pedro is a classic example because while he was putting in his best efforts against Bilbao and Arsenal, he couldn’t deliver the final ball which could have perhaps decided both games in the first half.

    Oh well we ungrateful Barca fans should be delighted with the 3 points in the bag…:)

  6. bc9jaCulé says:

    Yes. Omer. We’ve been totally spoilt with the way our soccer titans have been sendin’ teams to the cleaners’ this season. But don’t you think anything short of that now could cost us every trophy we’re playin’ for this season — especially with Madrid breathin’ down on our neck like a pride of wounded lions?

    We must maintain focus and exhibit constancy of purpose — now, more than ever!!!

    I acknowledge the fact that our boys have really tried so far but to be identified with come May endin’ — when all the competitions must have ended — they have to keep on keepin’ on. Now that could mean askin’ for too much but they have to give that much to establish themselves as true champions. Actually, the boys are still doin’ great and here’s hopin’ they’ll quickly shake off this little blip in form and return to winnin’ ways.

    Força Barça!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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