Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao: Iniesta and Messi goals see Catalans stay six points behind Real Madrid
Pep Guardiola's side kept up the chase at the top of the table thanks to a comfortable victory over a tired Basque outfit at Camp Nou.
By Martin Macdonald
Barcelona cut Real Madrid's lead at the top of the Spanish Primera Division back to six points with a professional 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on Saturday evening.
The visiting side struggled to make an impact on the match, and looked very fatigued having played just 48 hours ago in the Europa League. And the Catalan side took advantage, with goals from Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi sealing the three points.
The home side thought it had taken the lead with a fantastic move on the edge of the box just seven minutes into the match, with Messi and Dani Alves combining to set up Thiago for an easy finish. However the goal was correctly ruled as offside by the linesman and Athletic was let off the hook.
Pep Guardiola's men came within inches of grabbing the opening goal of the match in the 25th minute, but for a world class clearance off the line from Jon Aurtenetxe to save the visiting team. Messi picked out Gerard Pique at the back post, where he thought he had scored with a shot at goal but the 20-year-old was there to head clear off the line in the nick of time.
The deadlock was broken just five minutes before the halftime whistle through a thunderous finish from Iniesta. Alexis Sanchez was the catalyst for the attack after he tracked back to rob Athletic of possession before giving the ball to Messi, who slid a pass down the channel. Iniesta then drove towards goal before smashing a shot into the roof of the net past Iraizoz.
Marcelo Bielsa made a couple of positive changes at halftime, with Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain being introduced to the action. This sprung the visiting side into life, as it looked more dangerous on the counterattack in the final third.
However, just over 10 minutes after the break, Barcelona doubled the lead thanks to a penalty kick from Messi. The spot kick appeared to be the correct decision after Cristian Tello got the wrong side of Javi Martinez in the box and was brought down by a tired tackle from behind from the Athletic man. Messi coolly dispatched the penalty in the bottom right corner.
Athletic Bilbao then introduced Fernando Llorente into the action, but he, much like his other teammates, looked to be very fatigued from their Europa League exploits midweek. This merely played into Barcelona's hands, and the Catalans coolly and professionally kept possession for the last quarter of the match.
This result sees Barcelona rise to 72 points in La Liga, six points behind rival Real Madrid at the top of the table. Athletic Bilbao remains eleventh on 38 points, nine points adrift of the coveted Champions League places.
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