Barcelona vs Athletic: match report
Ahead of kick-off the big news was who had been left out of Luis Enrique's starting XI. Pichichi leader, Luis Suárez, Jordi Alba and Mascherano all took their seats on the bench with a return leg in the Copa ahead. The game got underway at breakneck speed with Athletic putting their hosts under plenty of pressure and creating arguably the best chances of the opening exchanges. The most clear-cut opportunity fell to Iñaki Williams on the 11th minute when a centre from Laporte, who had escaped on the left wing found the Spaniard all alone around the penalty spot but somehow misdirected his header wide of the left post. Athletic continued to press but just as some home fans may have been getting a little uncomfortable in their seat, up stepped Paco Alcácer just a few minutes later to relieve some tension.
The pattern of the game didn't change much but the second goal seemed as though it would decide how the afternoon would unfold, and so it did. With five minutes remaining in the half, Messi stood back from a free-kick wide on the right side of the Athletic penalty box. His strike was clean and the low inswinging drive was directed at the middle of the goal and went straight through to Iraizoz who somehow couldn't coordinate his hands, arms or other body part to block it out. That effectively was that.
The second half was not so much a procession but it certainly rarely threatened to turn into a contest. Luis Enrique seemed to feel this too and removed Messi on the hour. Prior to that, Rafinha had taken a rather nasty knock to the head from his own keeper. Neymar was a constant thorn on the left side and on more than one occasion had an Athletic defender falling as he shimmied past. The icing on the Camp Nou cake was added by Aleix Vidal who burst into the area and struck out of the reach of the diving Iraizoz. The result puts the blaugrana one point behind leaders Real Madrid who still have two games in hand, but may have a troublesome fixture list.
Min 90+3 | Muniain turns his effort up to 200% to get the final shot of the game away which goes just over the bar. Whistle blows. Three points for Barça.
Min 90+1 | We're into three minutes added time (ref clearly forgot about the Rafinha injury stoppage). The game has slowed to can-we-go-home-already pace.
Min 89 | Another chance (half chance anyway) as Neymar looks to strike a falling ball. It won't make his Christmas DVD.
Min 87 | More Elvis impressions from Neymar and this time leaves De Marcos stranded but his cross from the goalline is blocked. Another chance presents itself quickly though but Iraizoz stands up well to block the strike.
Min 85 | All the danger that was apparent early on from Athletic seems to have evaporated. They seem happy to go away with just this deficit.
Min 83 | Rakitic shows some nice footwork in the centre of the pitch, including a nutmeg which gets the usual cheers from the home crowd, and is then brought down. How dare he.
Min 79 | Muniain fashions a chance but his left-foot strike is dragged across goal. No danger caused.
Min 77 | Williams in a familiar position on the right side just inside the area and tries an outswinger to catch Ter Stegen off-guard. Close but never going to trouble the keeper.
Min 74 | Mathieu gets wide down the left and whips the ball across goal but its well defended as Alcácer arrives.
Min 71 | Barca know that this game is well under control now and seem to be playing with even more freedom. Chances are opening up as Athletic look more tired and accepting.
Min 67 | Goal scored by Vidal who stepped forward into the area, the path of the ball almost taken in the stride of Neymar but he jumps high leaving the defender to strike past the keeper.
Min 66 | Barcelona look much more comfortable now and...GOAL!!!!
Min 63 | Sub: Sergi Roberto on for Messi as Luis Enrique suggests the game is won.
Min 61 | After a lot of nothingness, the ball breaks to Messi in the middle of the park and he takes off at the heart of the defence. It looks a real chance but he's snuffed out well before he gets into the area.
Min 58 | Sub: San José replaced by Beñat.
Min 57 | Neymar wriggles free in the opposition area and swings a big left boot but the ball goes well wide of the post. It's a game where both teams don't appear to be spending much time in the middle third of the pitch; very direct approaches. Need to check heatmap to see if it's true.
Min 54 | Sub: Rakitic relaces the wounded Rafinha who's still getting treatment at the side of the pitch. Sub for Athletic as Aduríz comes on for Lekue.
Min 53 | Williams on the right side of the area seems to pull the trigger for a net buster...throw in to barça on the left.
Min 50 | Williams does well to hold the ball inside the Barça area surrounded by three defenders. Chance turns into corner and nothing. Swung ball in and Ter Stegen comes flying out to punch. He does but takes Rafinha out...look away now, lots of blood!
Min 48 | Chance! Short corner, Messi chips it to the back post and the onrushing rafinha should have done better with the header. Wide!
Min 46 | Immediately Messi feeds his Brazilian wing-man who speeds past San José, fires a dragged back cross to the edge of the area but it's cleared.
Min 46 | The second half is underway. What will Vilaverde's instructions have been? Keep the score respectable, or get right in their faces? I'll let you know in a minute but my guess is the latter. Sub: Mascherano on
What started as a serious, and even, battle has possibly already been concluded as a contest. Athletic came to have a real go and the chance for Williams early on could have put a very different perspective on this match. As it is, Barça's two goal lead already showed signs in the final minutes of the half as being truly demoralising for the visitors and with Messi and Neymar both looking to get on the ball as often as possible, there could be more trouble ahead.
Min 45 | Half-time: 2-0
Min 44 | Athletic half-heartedly claim for a penalty. Never going to be given.
Min 42 | Almost three! Neymar shakes his hips at San José who falls over. The Brazilian's shot just wide of the far post.
Min 39 | GOAL!!! Messi's low in-swinger is untouched and goes straight through Iraizoz. Awful keeping.
Min 38 | A foul again and Messi tees up the free kick wide on the right of the area...
Min 35 | Penalty shout for Barca. Rafinha with quick feet deep on the right, works the ball eventually to Neymar. His dinked push forward hits the defender but rightly nothing given.
Min 34 | Another free-kick for the home side (Yeray on Neymar), in the middle of the Athletic half. Fouls mounting up.
Min 33 | de Marcos into the book as Neymar ends up on the deck.
Min 31 | Barca break with Messi and Neymar at pace through the middle but a great stretching leg stops them before the final third. Then Williams sprints passed Piqué close to the goalline and Ter Stegen pulls of an important reaction save to prevent the equaliser. This game is still very open.
Min 27 | Neymar searched for and found again on the left side of the Athletic box. Just as it looked like he was getting past San José the defender puts a hand on the Brazilian's shoulder and he chooses to stop and take the free-kick instead of pushing on. Free-kick drifted over and caught by Iraizoz.
Min 26 | Yellow for Iturraspe in the centre of the park as Barça look to break.
Min 24 | Athletic pushing men forward to press the home back line. Risky but could pay off.
Min 22 | Yellow for Piqué as he attempts to get Raúl García's shirt 68 minutes early. Truth is that was as cynical a foul as they come with a great chance opening up for Athletic.
Min 21 | Messi dribbling school almost gets him in. Goal kick though as it ricochets of him and a defender.
Min 20 | The Basque visitors will need to suck that goal up even if they made a bright start to the game. Replay suggests Iraizoz may be a little disappointed at being beaten.
Min 18 | GOAL!!! Neymar receives the ball on the left (again) and feeds it into Alcácer who slots home neatly. Low, near post.
Min 16 | Messi tries to trick his way through a tiny gap on the edge of the area. He got there but the ball didn't. The right to left long diagonals seem to be a key to Barça attacks.
Min 13 | Neymar with a lovely piece of control. Nothing came of it but it was lovely nonetheless.
Min 12 | Some hankie waving going on as per the protest plan but certainly not a full endorsement from the Camp Nou.
Min 11 | What a chance! Williams had more space than that weird guy on the number 17 bus but heads wide.
Min 8 | Now it's the home side's chance to try to create something in the final third and Messi feeds Neymar on his usual left but his knock-down doesn't reach its target.
Min 5 | The pace drops just a moment but then Williams finds himself on the right side of the Barça area and lifts the ball into the centre. It's cleared but Athletic then have a period of neat possession until a long, diagonal is overhit.
Min 3 | Chance for Athletic. Immediately, the visitors break and Raúl García gets a shot away from about 8 yards. Post!! And away to safety by Umtiti. Some start.
Min 2 | First chance. Alcacér down the right for the home side, puts a poor ball behind Neymar into the box (rather than into his path for a tap in) but as the defender slips the Brazilian has a great opportunity but dallies too long and finishes with a weak shot.
Min 1 | And we're off... Athletic get it quickly down the right and swing a cross in but it's overhit and safely away. Barça take control of the ball.
Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao: latest news
16:13 | The Barça anthem rings out as the teams line up on the pitch with mascots. Hand shakes, huddles and neatly arranged photos done.
16:11 | The players are gathering in the tunnel and it's great to see Athletic defender Yeray Alvarez return after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
16:04 | Some players take individual awards more seriously than others and if Luis Suárez was keen to finish the season as the league's top scorer then he'll be rather disappointed to be sitting out the start. A reminder that the Uruguayan has 16 goals to his name, Messi 15 and Cristiano 14.
16:00 | The stadium is quickly filling up and players getting their final words from the managers. Just 15 to go...
15:45 | Just half an hour till kick-off. Remember we're expecting a hankie waving protest just 12 minutes into the game so if you're heading to the stadium, want to be involved, but don't have one, ask a friend for a spare.
15:28 | So, teams are out and some interesting changes with top strikers in each side, Suárez and Aduríz, warming the bench.
Barça vs Athletic: starting line-ups
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen, Vidal, Piqué, Umtiti, Mathieu, Rafinha, Mascherano, Alcácer, Messi, Neymar, Arda
Athletic XI: Iraizoz, Balenziaga, Laporte, Yeray, De Marcos, San José, Iturraspe, Muniain, Raúl García, Williams, Lekue
14:50 | As we mentioned earlier, the game in Vigo tomorrow was at risk. Well, the mayor has decided to call it off so a day off for Cristiano and co.
14:08 | The visiting manager, Ernesto Valverde, was speaking ahead of the game, "We will try to do what we know, giving intensity and rhythm to the match. They are coming off the back of a very tough game." He also added, "We always try to win, taking risks for it. It's our style."
13:55 | Already bored of our live feed? Well, here are some alternative ways to enjoy today's game. Although we'll try to up our game to keep you with us for the whole afternoon.
13:24 | ...on the back of last night's call-off, there are a few concerns that the game for Barça's biggest title rivals, Madrid, may be at risk.
13:16 | As you may have heard, last night's game in Galicia was postponed due to bad weather. No signs of any Camp Nou destroying hurricanes in Barcelona today. In fact, it should be a rather pleasant 19 degrees.
12:20 | Barcelona have announced their squad for Saturday afternoon’s match versus Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou (16:15 CET), and there is no place for Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets or Lucas Digne. View full squad here.
11:15 | How does our resident AS Oracle see today's game at Camp Nou ending? Here's his weekly LaLiga predictions.
10:15 | Today's game will see a 12th minute protest from the active Barça fans aimed at recent referring decisions
10:00 | ¡Buenos días! Good morning! We'll be bringing you all the latest updates we can get our hands on right up until the famous Barça anthem before kick-off. Then we really get down to business...
Barcelona vs Athletic: preview
It's a match-up between two historical sides of Spanish football and two teams that recently faced-off in the Copa del Rey in a tie that saw the Catalans squeeze through by just a single goal after the two legs. A home win for both sides (2-1 and 3-1). But that was back in early January and much has happened since. Barcelona come into this game after controversially dropping two points against Betis leaving them at risk of handing main title rivals a comfortable run-in lead, and Athletic arrive on the back of a 2-1 comeback at the San Mames against Sporting and sit just two points off the European places, four off Champions League.
Luis Enrique and co will hopefully be able to put much of their last two games out of their heads. Last weekend saw them score a valid goal which was harshly not given by the officials. Although that was the headline grabbing story, it's more likely that blaugrana nightmares were created from the way that Betis put them to the sword for much of the game and, other than the controversial moment, would have been full value for all three points. The midweek cup clash with Atlético also had two clear focus points: a win that puts Barça in pole position for the final, but also a second half performance by Atlético that showed a team with fight and desire can really trouble the reigning Liga champions.
Rotation is expected from a manager who will have one eye on ensuring their cup advantage is not thrown away in the second leg against Atlético on Tuesday. The MSN trident is likely not be complete with Arda Turan expected to step in for one of them. There are still some key injuries around the Camp Nou with Iniesta and Busquets still recovering although they are not far away from giving Luis Enrique the first XI he desperately wants to field, knowing that he can barely afford to boost Real Madrid's confidence ahead of their game in Vigo on Sunday.
Player to watch: Messi. The Argentinian has had a spectacular January and will hope to continue this form as we enter the business end of the season. 15 goals to his name in LaLiga so far, one off teammate Suárez.
The Lions from Bilbao haven't won at the Camp Nou for a long, long time. To be more specific, Athletic Club's last victory at the home of Barcelona was on 24 November 2001. Much has changed since then. With Atlético only four points better off in fourth place Ernesto Valverde knows that expectations are rising and Europa League football, at least, is a realistic goal. One challange is improving the team's form away from San Mamés, only two wins and two draws gaining any points in nine Liga matches. It's also worth noting that the second of those two wins was way back in September 2016 against Granada.
Iraizoz will take his place in goal ahead of the injured Kepa. Sabin Merino is also out but more positive news comes in the form of Etxeita who has returned to training with the group. Williams has a good chance to return to the starting XI after his substitution appearance against Sporting although Bóveda remains a doubt.
Player to watch: Aduriz. The veteran striker is a constant offensive threat and knows how to score against Barcelona having done so in the Copa del Rey last month. In LaLiga he has seven goals.