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BARCELONA-ATHLETIC BILBAO

Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao: LaLiga goals, result, report

First-half strikes by Paco Alcácer and Lionel Messi saw LaLiga leaders Barça comfortably defeat Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
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Update:
Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao: LaLiga goals, result, report
ALBERT GEAREUTERS

Barcelona remain on course to reclaim the LaLiga title after goals by Paco Alcácer and Lionel Messi saw them comfortably beat Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Alcácer, Messi wrap up points in dominant first half

Handed his first start for Barça since early February, Alcácer sidefooted home after just eight minutes, before Messi drilled in a low shot on the half-hour mark in a hugely one-sided first 45. Indeed, Philippe Coutinho hit the crossbar twice for a team who could well have been significantly further ahead at the break.

Paco Alcácer celebrates scoring Barcelona's first goal.
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Paco Alcácer celebrates scoring Barcelona's first goal.ALBERT GEAREUTERS

Iniesta given standing ovation after China admission

However, Athletic averted what had threatened to be a cricket score with an improved showing in a goalless second half at the Camp Nou - one that witnessed a huge ovation for Barcelona substitute Andrés Iniesta.

Fresh from revealing that he has until the end of April to decide whether to leave for China, the reception he received - complete with chants of "Iniesta, please stay" - will have left him in no doubt about the Barça fans' opinion on the matter.

Iniesta (right) came on to a rapturous ovation against Athletic.
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Iniesta (right) came on to a rapturous ovation against Athletic.PAU BARRENAAFP

Barcelona maintain firm grip on LaLiga top spot 

Barcelona now sit 11 points clear of second-placed Atlético Madrid, who were beaten by Villarreal this evening, 2-1.

Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao live online: as it happened

Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao live online: match preview

League leaders Barça host a struggling Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou as Ernesto Valvderde’s side look to strengthen their grip on the title against a visiting side who are in desperate need of points if they are to have any chance of getting back into Europe next season after being dumped out of the Europa League by Marseille at the last 16 stage.

Barcelona

Valverde’s Barça remain unbeaten in LaLiga this season and hold an eight-point advantage over second-placed Atlético after seeing off Diego Simeone’s 2013-14 champions at Camp Nou two weeks ago. That result that makes the home side odds-on favourites to regain the title in what has been something of a procession this season: Barça have dropped just 12 points in 2017-18 and have failed to win at home just twice, against Celta and Getafe, scoring 38 goals at Camp Nou and conceding just six.

The Barça boss has a few notable absentees for the visit of Athletic, who haven’t scored a league victory at Camp Nou since 2001-02. Sergio Busquets is out for three weeks with a fractured metatarsal and Luis Suárez is suspended, leaving Ivan Rakitic to fill the holding role and André Gomes, who received an ovation for his cameo in place of Busquets against Chelsea, to complete the midfield three.

Ousmane Dembélé, who was on target in the Champions League, and Philippe Courinho are likely to flank Leo Messi in the home side’s attack.

Athletic

It has been a disappointing season at San Mamés. Cuco Ziganda has failed to adequately fill the managerial boots of former Athletic boss Valverde and his side have been below par in every competition contested in 2017-18, going out of Europe and the Copa del Rey earlier than expected while slumping to 13th in LaLiga and nine points off the European places.

Injuries have played a part but players including Aritz Aduriz and Iñaki Williams have found their form under Valverde desert them in the league, with the team misfiring in front of goal and lacking the defensive solidity with which Athletic have traditionally been associated, even after the controversial January capture of Iñigo Martínez.

Ziganda’s 4-2-3-1 will lend Athletic some numerical superiority in midfield but Kepa Arrizabalaga can expect a busy afternoon with Messi looking to add to his 24 Liga strikes this season.

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