Barça back to business in Bilbao

Athletic 0 Barça 1 Suarez celebrates goal 2015Barça may have been outplayed and outfought at San Mames in the Spanish Supercopa nine days ago, but with the real business of La Liga in play, Luis Enrique’s team gave a much more solid performance and deservedly beat Athletic Club 0-1 thanks to Luis Suárez’s 54th minute volley.

In Athletic’s 4-0 victory in the Supercopa it was clear that Athletic’s high press was a big threat to Barça’s defence. In today’s encounter Barça’s back four showed a lot more composure in playing the ball out from the back and they were superbly assisted by the ability of both Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta to receive the ball under pressure and then to find a teammate.

For the first fifteen minutes it was Barça’s quick possession game versus a very energetic press from Athletic but as Barça kept the ball it was the Athletic players who were using up more energy in the chase. There was little danger for either goalkeeper at this stage but it still made for a fascinating duel.

Then in the 16th minute Dani Alves was injured after taking a kick from behind from Aritz Aduriz and Luis Enrique was forced to bring on Sergi Roberto in his place. The youngster fitted in well and immediately began to offer more attacking options with his spurts up the right side. In the 21st minute the ball appeared to have crossed the goalline as he crossed from near the corner flag, but play was allowed to continue and then Messi’s appeal for a penalty was ignored after Elustondo’s raised arm blocked the ball after the Argentinian’s chested control.

However, nine minutes later Messi would get his chance from the penalty spot after the match officials combined to make another double mistake. First Suárez appeared offside when Jordi Alba sent a long pass forward, Elustondo misjudged the ball allowing Suárez into the area but then the defender seemed to make a clean tackle for the ball but referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande considered it a foul and pointed to the spot. Messi sidefooted his penalty low and close to the post but his shot lacked power and Gorka Iraizoz leapt to his right to palm the ball away.

The penalty miss could have proved costly but Barça continued to look composed. In the 34th minute Sergi Roberto got forward again to cross for Suárez. The Uruguan’s swing made only minimal contact and Iraizoz dived to push the ball away and Rafinha who was following up on the left could only whip the ball back across the goalmouth with no Barça player close to converting. Barça patient play meant just one more chance before half-time but it came after a lovely build-up involving Iniesta and Messi. The Argentinian’s brilliant chip into the area found Suárez, but after turning, the striker’s shot hit Laporte’s legs.

Both sides continued in the same vein at the start of the second half with Barça continuing to dominate. Athletic suffered an injury to left-back Balenziaga in the 50th minute which forced Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde to bring on Boveda at right-back while switching De Marcos to the left side of defence. The changes in the Basque back-four may have had an effect as Barça finally broke the deadlock four minutes later. Rakitic played a long ball forward to the left wing, Alba had sprinted forward into space and he met the ball first time sending his cross directly to the unmarked Suárez who volleyed past Iraizoz from eight yards.

Barça looked more comfortable with the goal advantage and Athletic found it harder to keep up the energetic press. Sergi Roberto came close to adding a second with a thunderous shot from 20 yards that cannoned off the crossbar. However, Barça’s control of the game took a blow when the excellent Busquets went down injured after receiving another kick from the over-enthusiastic Aduriz. Luis Enrique’s only option was to move Mascherano forward into Busquets’ role and bring Bartra into an untried defence of Sergi Roberto-Bartra-Vermaelen-Alba.

Athletic sensed an opportunity and made a final effort to threaten Bravo’s goal. Susaeta shot well wide from 20 yards then in the 80th minute substitute Ibai Gomez lashed his shot wide after Barça failed to clear a cross from the right. Sandro came on for the disappointing Rafinha in the 82nd minute and as full time approached Messi began to take advantage of Athletic’s tiring legs. A spectacular 30-yard own-goal from Boveda was ruled out as Suárez was deemed offside from the Argentinian’s pass. Then we saw a run that only Messi could do, past three opponents including a nutmeg before firing his shot too close to Iraizoz. Athletic made one last push in injury time with Laporte firing a long distance effort towards goal. However, Bravo was well positioned to catch the shot and Barça held on to the first three hard-earned points of the season.

Athletic: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Elustondo, Laporte, Balenziaga (Boveda m50); Beñat, Mikel Rico (Gurpegi m63): Eraso, Sabin (Ibai Gomez m63), Susaeta; Aduriz.

Barça: Bravo 7; Alves 6 (Sergi Roberto m19, 7.5), Mascherano 7, Vermaelen 7.5, Alba 7.5; Rakitic 7.5, Busquets 8.5 (Bartra m68, 6.5), Iniesta 8; Messi 7, Suárez 7, Rafinha 5.5 (Sandro m82, 6)

Goal: m54 Suárez 0-1.

Yellow cards: m34 Elustondo, m35 Eraso, m44 Rakitic, m64 Vermaelen, m71 Ibai Gomez, m75 Suárez.

Attendance: 53,000

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8 Responses to Barça back to business in Bilbao

  1. The first news on injuries is Alves will be out for a month and Busquets for two weeks

  2. Pingback: Barça back to business in Bilbao | BLOG TIKI-TAKA

  3. Ewald Hötzl says:

    Hi Nic, nice to read from you! What an slaughter at Bilbao. No good news concerning Alves and Busquets. I think that our squad might be too thin to win the league title this year – what is your take on this?

  4. Hi Ewald. I agree the squad looks thin but even so Barça are still the bookmakers’ favourite. Youngsters such as Bartra, and especially, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha are sure to be needed more this season and it’s going to be interesting to see how they do. Sergi Roberto has looked pretty good in preseason and Rafinha definitely has the talent if he can find his form. The season has started with bad luck with injuries and suspensions on top of not being allowed to play any new signings until January. However, we should be able to keep in contention until then and then with Arda and Aleix Vidal we will have more depth for the crucial stages of the season. It’s very early days but I saw today’s performance as a reason for optimism. Added to Madrid’s draw at Sporting it’s been a pretty good day except for the injuries. However, neither player will miss many games and with Neymar and Mathieu probably available next week I think we’ll be all right.

  5. Tough game it was for us butting was worst for Real Madrid. They have lost so much speed and velocity on the counter compared to JM team’s of 3 years ago. Unless, they change that it will be a long season for us. Sporting pulled off a great feat and they actually could have won the game. Now that a recently promoted team, not allowed to sign, managed to steal points from RM, I am sure everyone else will play their hearts out against them. This could be another exciting season!!!!

  6. kkhatak says:

    I am afraid that Messi is spent and mentally not in it.he looked sleeping and showed not much enthusiasm. In the last 5 years I have not seen him so disinterested.

    • You know, he was in this same type of form at the beginning of the season last year and we all know what happened in the end. It is too early. Messi’s made so many of us eat crow over the years (I know I have!). So, let’s act as if he does not exist until he wants us to notice him. He deserves all the credit in the World for what he has given us over the years. That beautiful run he had, taking out 5 or 6 players, from midfield is something he would have definitely finished, as in score, at peak form. My take is that this first 5 games are really his pre-season. He and Mascherano have played so many games since last August (liga, Copa, Champions, Copa America qualifiers, Copa America tournament-hanging in there until the final game, not to mention World Cup, Supercups,etc)…heck I am tired just remembering and typing this…you get my point I hope. As much as we like thinking and saying that he is from another planet, Messi is only human…a great physical specimen in football but only human!!!

      • Caleb says:

        I have to humbly back Diatus on this one. I have likewise expressed doubts about Messi’s effort and commitment only for him to produce some of the most brilliant displays I’ve ever seen. No player can deliver constantly. Only one or two out of a few generations of footballers can produce as often as Messi does. Even if he has an awful season and doesn’t score more than 5 goals, he’s got my support to be a starter the next season.

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