Athletic 0-2 Barcelona: match report
Messi to Paulinho. Back to Messi. Messi out to Alba. Back to Messi again. Goal. There are certain moments where it appears that Lionel Messi breathes a heavy sigh and decides to take it upon himself to grasp a match by the scruff of the neck.
One of those moments occurred at San Mamés on Saturday evening, where the Argentine scored the opening goal in a 0-2 victory against an energetic Athletic side. Paulinho confirmed the victory deep in to stoppage time as Barcelona swept forward on the counter attack. Ernesto Valverde’s side move four points clear at the top of LaLiga amid a turbulent political atmosphere stemming from Catalonia’s declaration of independence from Spain on Friday.
It was an emotional occasion for Valverde, who returned to the club that he managed for more matches than any other individual in their illustrious and unique history. His successor, Jose Ángel Ziganda, has struggled to manage over a smooth transition. Athletic came in to the match having won just one of their last 12 matches in all competitions, including a draw against lower-league Formentera in the Copa del Rey.
The home side began with a positivity that belied their recent results. Iñaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz both squandered clear chances in the opening 20 minutes of the match.
Luckily for the profligate pair, Lionel Messi was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal. The 30-year-old latched on to Luis Suárez first time pass, took a couple of touches, and shifted the ball from his left foot to his right foot to take Athletic goalkeeper Kepa out of the game. But instead of seeing the familiar ripple of the net, the ball skidded off the post and behind.
Messi did not have to wait long for his 12th goal in 10 league matches. After 36 minutes he played a one-two with Paulinho, spread the ball to Jordi Alba, and met the left-back’s cross at the near post. The build-up was sensational, and the finish tidy.
Raúl García clipped the bar shortly after half time with a header from a corner, indicative of the open nature of the match.
Samuel Umtiti was lucky to avoid a petulant pair of yellow cards as the full-time whistle approached. He received an initial booking after the referee took his ponderousness for time-wasting. The Frenchman responded by sarcastically clapping the official. It was an unnecessary loss of composure from a player defined by his calmness.
It would have been fitting for Barcelona to grind out a 0-1 victory; a victory that people would look back on if Barça maintain this advantage and say: ‘those results are the mark of champions’. Yet Paulinho added a second goal on the counter-attack after Kepa could only parry Suárez’ shot in to the path of the Brazilian. He showed admirable desire to make a lung-bursting run in the last knocking and was rewarded with a tap-in.
Barcelona’s weekend of work is done in LaLiga. A trip to Olympiacos awaits in the Champions League.
Athletic 0-2 Barcelona: as it happened
90'+3' FT. Messi and Paulinho score the goals as Barcelona scrap to victory on Bilbao.
90'+3' A last corner for Athletic.
90'+2' GOOOOOOL! Barcelona take advantage of Athletic's need for an equaliser and pounce on the counter attack. Messi carries the ball through the centre and lays it off to Suárez on the left. He opens his body and shoots to the far post. Kepa parries, but only in to the patch of Paulinho, who tucks the ball home.
90' Three minutes of added time.
90' Messi shapes a free-kick towards the top corner, and Kepa has it covered as the ball fizzes over the bar.
88' Messi threads the ball through a narrow gap and in to the path of Nelson Semedo, whose first-time cross is blocked. Barça have possession of the ball as they look to see out a 0-1. Messi wins a free-kick on the edge of the box, with Laporte tugging away at his shirt.
85' With Raúl García a malevolent, lurking presence at the far post, Nelson Semedo is forced to head Susaeta's deep cross behind. Aduriz makes a smart run to the near post and meets the corner but Ter Stegen is equal to his header.
83' Athletic also shuffle the pack: Susaeta comes on for Williams.
83' A change for Barça: Nelson Semedo replaces André Gomes. That sees Sergi Roberto moving in to the middle, and Paulinho shifting towards the left.
81' Umtiti is booked for time wasting, and then sarcastically applauds the referee. He should have been sent off by the letter of the law, and it would have been the most petulant pair of yellow cards possible.
80' Messi is dropping very deep in order to dictate play. He tries to scoop the ball over the top to Suárez, who scrambles to reach it but is offside in any case. Barça could really do with a second goal.
78' Córdoba probes through the centre before laying the ball out to Aduriz. He drops his shoulder, cuts in, and shoots to the near post, where Ter Stegen smothers his shot.
77' Williams finds Córdoba at the far post. The 20-year-old tries to hook the ball in with his left foot, but succeeds only in lofting it over the bar and out.
75' The match is finely poised as we enter the final 15 minutes at San Mamés. Neither side has control.
75' Paulinho is booked for catching Laporte on the toe.
71' Iturraspe robs André Gomes and the ball bobbles in front of Raúl García. He shoots... and drags a tame shot wide.
70' Iñigo Córdoba plays the ball out to Williams on the right before peeling towards the back post in anticipation of the cross. He anticipated well, but the delivery is a touch too high. Córdoba gets a touch on the ball but can't keep it down. Athletic continue to threaten, and the introduction of Beñat should provide an injection of creativity.
68' Ziganda makes his first change: Beñat replaces San Jose.
68' Inches... Raúl García just needed to be a few inches taller. He throws himself towards Iturraspe's deep cross and is a whisker away from poking it in at the far post.
66' Unai Nunez sniffs out danger once again. This time, he slides in to prevent Suárez' shot flying in to the bottom corner.
65' The ball falls to Iñaki Williams deep inside the box after Barça fail to clear a cross. He shapes to shoot on his left foot, jinks back on to his right, and fires a low shot straight in to Ter Stegen's arms. Another decent chance for the flying winger.
63' Piqué is harshly booked for a foul on Aduriz 30 yards out. Iturraspe floats a delivery towards the far post, but it's overhit and goes straight out for a goal kick.
61' A superb sliding tackle from Unai Nunez prevents André Gomes converting Lionel Messi's pass. Rakitic's corner commits the cardinal sin of not beating the first man, but the Croatian's second delivery is better. Kepa is forced to punch clear, clattering Umtiti in the process. The Spain Under-21 'keeper gives his opponent a hand back to his feet, and there are no hard feelings.
57' Umtiti stands up well against Williams as the Athletic winger looks to trick his way in to the box. The Barça No.23 keeps his eyes on the ball and takes it cleanly.
55' Córdoba, who has been rather quiet so far, fizzes past Sergi Roberto and sends in a low cross. Umtiti clears before Aduriz can seize on the half-chance.
53' Athletic hit the bar! Raúl García rises highest to meet Iturraspe's corner on the six-yard line and his header clips the top of the woodwork on its way behind. The momentum has shifted in favour of the home side as Iturraspe fizzes a shot wide.
48' Messi slows the ball down on the left, displaying the 'pause' that is such a big concept in Latin football, allowing players around you to get in to position before playing the pass. When he does play the pass, André Gomes is the recipient. He runs through the middle but instead of shooting, tries to cut back on to his left foot to shoot. Both Gomes and Messi try unsuccessfully to work space for a shot before Williams scampers clear with the ball at his feet.
47' Sergio Busquets goes in to the book. His crime was to challenge for the ball with Mikel San Jose and show his studs in the process.
46' From that corner, the ball comes out for Lekue, 40 yards out. He thumps it back over the box, over the goal, and in to the crowd. Unorthadox from the left-back.
46' Athletic get the second half going and immediately win a corner.
Here come the teams...
Athletic have been profligate in front of goal so far... 6 shots on goal, 6 shots off target.
Elsewhere in the footballing world this evening, England were crowned the Under-17 World Cup champions after beating Spain 5-2 in Kolkata. Barcelona youngster Sergio Gómez scored both goals for La Rojita.
45' The referee puts his whistle to his lips and calls time on a frenetic first half. A moment of magic from Messi is the the difference at the break, but Williams and Aduriz squandered chances for the home side.
45' Jordi Alba scampers back in an attempt to prevent the ball going out for a corner, but his efforts are in vain. So are those of the Athletic centre-halves who have trundled forward from the back, as Iturraspe fails to beat the first man. Aduriz has a half-hearted attempt for a penalty turned down when the ball is worked back in to the box. He tangled with Umtiti, and then took a couple more steps between falling to the ground. It would've been soft.
41' Iturraspe slides in on Messi just outside the box, and receives a booking for his trouble. Suárez shoots... and slams it in to the wall.
39' Messi lays the ball off for Paulinho, who as usual, has timed his arrival in to the box very nicely. The finish leaves more to be desired, as the Brazilian leans back and blazes it over the bar.
36' GOL GOL GOL! What a goal Lionel Messi. What a goal. The Argentine starts the move in the centre, playing a one-two with Paulinho before pinging a first time ball out to Alba on the wing. When Alba cuts the ball back from the byline, Messi times his run perfectly to meet it at the near post and guide it beyond Kepa. That was one of his moves where he just grasps the match by the scruff of the neck.
34' Luis Suárez lays the ball off to Alba, and while everyone else surges in to the box, he waits on the edge. Alba spots his static team-mate, and cuts it back. The Uruguayan fizzes a fierce first-time shot just wide via a touch off André Gomes.
30' Raúl García receives the ball in a pocket of space just inside the Barça half. But before he can turn out and thread the ball through to the galloping figure of Iñaki Williams, the linesman incorrectly flags him offside. The former-Atlético man puts the ball under his arm and aims a few choice words at the officials.
29' Paulinho has a pop from 25 yards and drags a bouncing shot wide.
27' André Gomes slips clear of Athletic's high press and emerges with the ball. He lays it off to Suárez and continues a forward run down the left, but instead of returning the favour, Suárez chips the ball back in to the middle and loses possession. The Uruguayan is not at the races.
25' Sergi Roberto bursts down the right and trips over as the box beckons. Luckily, the ball dribbles in to the path of Suárez, who sees his acutely-angled shot blocked by Laporte. An Athletic defender rises well to head the subsequent corner clear.
24' Rakitic runs on to Suárez' pass on the right and hits a rasping daisy-cutter towards the far corner. Kepa gets down well and gets his body behind it.
21' Messi... Messi... Messiiiiiiiiii! From the sublime to the slack from Messi. He dribbles through the centre of the box, taps the ball from his left foot to his right to round Kepa, and hits the outside of the post! 9 times out of 10, that shot nestles in the back of the net.
19' Another big chance for the home side! San Jose shapes to cross a free-kick in to the box, before playing along the floor to Williams at the near post. He has the goal gaping, but opts for a low cross instead of a shot. Barça scramble the ball clear, but sloppy defending soon allows Aduriz to bear down on goal with just the 'keeper to beat. The No.20 opens up his body but doesn't slide it close enough to the post, and Ter Stegen sticks out a strong left arm. Athletic are squandering chances left, right, and Charlie.
17' Athletic come close to a trademark Athletic goal. Williams works a yard of space on the right and swings a cross to the near post, where Aduriz has made a run. The big striker leaps to meet it with a downward header, but Ter Stegen is equal to it.
16' A loose ball squirms out to Suárez on the corner of the six-yard box after Messi and Rakitic battled on the edge of the box. Laporte blocks Suárez shot behind for a corner, which comes to nothing.
14' Ooooh, Lekue takes advantage of a lucky deflection to charge in to the box and shoot. The ball clatters against Umtiti and there are vociferous calls for a penalty. The referee keeps his arms by his side... which is exactly what the French defender did too. Good decision despite the cascade of whistles from the crowd.
13' Umtiti chips a ball forward to Jordi Alba, who is careering up the left. He's flagged offside, which is indicative of how attacking the Barça full-backs are in this system.
12' Aduriz takes the ball down and tries to slip it through to the onrushing Williams. The right idea, but the execution is not quite there as the ball runs straight through to the awaiting arms of Ter Stegen.
9' Athletic are hassling Barça high up the pitch in an attempt to fluster the away side in to committing errors. They haven't provoked any clangers yet, but the Barça rearguard are unable to play out from the back with the ease that they would like.
6' Messi hits Barça's first shot of the match on the bounce from just outside the box... and it stays hit. The Argentine connects leather on leather (or synthetic on synthetic these days) perfectly, but the ball rises up to Kepa's palms. The young 'keeper pats it down on to the ground to take the sting out of it and gathers are the second attempt.
5' The clock ticks over the five minute mark as Raul García commits his first niggly foul. Umtiti is the victim, and it's on the half-way line.
3' Iñigo Lekue is hopelessly out of position, leaving acres of space for Luis Suárez to exploit when Piqué's long pass bounces in to the Uruguayan's path. He squares the ball to Messi, who is crowded out by a pack of red-and-white stripes.
2' Early possession from Barça reveals that Roberto and Alba are pushing right up the wings, with all four of the midfielders taking up fairly central positions. We'll see how this unfolds throughout the next few minutes.
1' Peeeep! Messi strokes the ball back to Busquets to get the match underway.
Strips of red-and-white material drape down the bottom tier as San Mamés collectively bursts in to the club anthem. A cracking atmosphere is building.
The teams are hanging around in the tunnel. Barça in light blue, and Athletic clad some absolutely lovely red track jackets. Their track-jacket game is consistently superb. Anyway, enough of that... out they come!
Ernesto Valverde has never won a match as a visiting manager at San Mamés. He lost twice with Espanyol, once with Villarreal, and once with Valencia. That said, those defeats all took place at the original San Mamés.
Athletic find themselves in a rather sticky patch of form, having won just one of their last ten matches (four draws and five defeats).
The teams are going through the final stages of the warm-up in San Mamés. Curiously, it doesn't appear to be raining in Bilbao.
It's difficult to make sense of that Barcelona line-up. The most likely formation appears to be a 4-4-2 diamond, with Busquets at the base and Gomes at the tip. But until the teams trot out at San Mamés, it will be difficult to predict Ernesto Valverde's system.
Athletic XI: Kepa; Bóveda, Núñez, Laporte, Lekue, San José, Iturraspe, Córdoba, Williams, Raúl García, Aduriz.
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Paulinho Andre Gomes; Messi, Suárez.
Good afternoon! Join us for build-up to this evening's clash at San Mamés!
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