La Liga Fixtures, Results & Standings
Having learned their lesson in midweek against Arsenal, Barcelona went full throttle to thump Athletic Bilbao 4-1 thanks to a double from Bojan Krkic and one in either half from Jeffren Suarez and Lionel Messi.
With the decisive Champions League quarter-final second leg showdown with Arsenal just three days away, Pep Guardiola opted to mix up his first XI.
Eric Abidal, back from his long-term injury, returned to the starting line-up, as did Dmytro Chygrynskiy. Xavi was rested while Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked up an injury during warm up, forcing the coach to send in Bojan Krkic to partner Lionel Messi upfront with Jeffren Suarez in support wide right.
Barca charged forward right from the start, but it was Athletic who looked the more dangerous side on the counter attack. Susaeta fired an early warning when he flashed a low shot just wide.
Maxwell, who lined up in midfield, rattled in Barca’s first shot at goal on 11 minutes after Messi had done well to tee him up, despite being surrounded by four players. But the Brazilian’s blistering effort flew wide.
Javi Martinez was next to try his luck from distance for the visiting Basques. Fernando Llorente shimmied his way past Gerard Pique on the left to set up the young midfielder, who scuffed his shot and the ball trickled harmlessly to Valdes.
The Blaugrana had the best chance to open scoring on 20 minutes. Bojan charged down the right flank and slipped in a clever low ball across the face of goal for Messi, but the Argentine shockingly missed from three yards out.
But on 28 minutes, Barcelona eventually had their goal. Messi threaded in a slide-rule pass to Abidal on the left, who drilled in low cross to the back post for Jeffren to stab home.
Athletic should have equalised on 33 minutes after Carles Puyol lost possession in his own half. Igor Gabilondo whipped in a low cross from the left and Llorente was waiting to pounce, but a crucial touch from Chygrynskiy threw off the giant striker, and the awkward bounce forced him to sky his shot from close range.
Los Leones would pay for their gilt-edged miss as the Catalans made it 2-0 five minutes before the break. Puyol fed Bojan with a delightful through ball and the young striker coolly slotted past a sprawling Gorka Iraizoz.
Athletic came racing out of the blocks in the second half. Gaizka Toquero’s header from a corner almost caught out Victor Valdes at the near post, but the Barca shot-stopper reacted quickly enough to punch it out. Moments later, Koikili hooked in a cross which Llorente headed over, although it took a touch off Gerard Pique on the way out.
Javi Martinez then latched onto a cheeky Susaeta through ball over the Barca defence, but his side-footed effort just shaved the post after taking a slight deflection. From the ensuing corner, Gurpegui thumped his header marginally wide at the back post.
With Barcelona struggling to regain control in midfield, Guardiola sent in Xavi for Sergio Busquets. And the midfield maestro worked his magic on 58 minutes when he orchestrated another sumptuous team goal. Messi picked up his pass, slipped in Abidal, who checked the ball back first time to Bojan in the middle and the 19-year-old arrowed in a thunderous shot on the edge of the box into the top corner.
Three quickly became four as Pichichi leader Messi finished off a sweeping move. Xavi sprayed the ball out wide to the right for Pedro, who dinked in a cross for Leo to tap his finish in between Iraizoz’s legs.
Athletic managed to pull one back in the 78the minute. Fran Yeste released Susaeta down the left, who had acres of space and plenty of time to gallop into the box unchallenged and fire past Valdes.
The Basques outfit should have had a second mere minutes later. Again it was Barca’s right flank which was hideously exposed as Susaeta’s pull back found Ander Iturraspe, whose shot was miraculous kept out by Valdes’ training leg.
Straight to the other end, Xavi forced a full stretch save from Iraizoz with a half volley, before Valdes had to pull off another brilliant block late on to ensure Barcelona wrap up the three points with a 4-1 win.
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