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.