Barcelona vs Athletic Club promised to be a game you don’t want to miss. Ronald Koeman and the Catalans tried to break Athletic Club’s tenacious defence and possibly go up to second place in the standings. With that being the third match-up between the two teams since Marcelino took over at Athletic many people tried to build the game up throughout the week like a revenge game for the Supercopa Final but that was overshadowed by the leak of Lionel Messi’s contract to the media on the eve of the game.
Barcelona vs Athletic Club – the line-up
Ter Stegen returned to the action taking his place in goal. Sergi Roberto, however, got back into the squad and was ready to contribute from the bench. Lenglet once again proved he is not a reliable choice for a centre back against Rayo and Umtiti came in the team in his place. With Pjanic being introduced instead of Busquets the structure remained pretty similar but Pjanic would allow more movement and dynamism from that midfield three(Pjanic-De Jong-Pedri).
Offensive opportunities and chance creation
Very sharp start from Barcelona, moving the ball with an urgency which allowed Messi to find Griezmann but the Frenchman could not guide his shot on target. The dynamic start resulted in Athletic Club pinned deep back in their territory for parts of the first half.
Messi starts the attack, plays a ball out wide to Jordi Alba looking for their signature move but gets fouled outside of the box. The free-kick is perfectly placed. The referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz and Miralem Pjanic had tremendous view lining up to try the reflexes of Unai Simon as well.
Dembele has been one of the best players in the last few weeks for Barcelona along with De Jong. Very sharp and looks ready to attack defenders every time he gets the ball. He was instrumental in the second goal as he starts the play and he also provides the through ball for Mingueza. It is ludicrous to suggest that Barcelona could do without his talents – remembering in the summer he was almost successfully forced out of the club.
Here he has the option to put De Jong through on the back post. He takes a shot that sailed over. He still needs to develop his decision making in the final third, the only thing missing in his game on a consistent level. A very impressive stretch of games for the Frenchman.
The second half had nothing to do with the first half. Athletic came out very aggressive, strong, and with purpose. Moved the ball well in transition and made quick decisions. Committed more players in attack and equalled the game to a certain extent. The own goal splits the opinions and the referee’s decision is questioned but there is a pattern in that backline – Jordi Alba struggling to defend when running towards his goal. It leads to him reacting late to defensive situations all season long(check his run for Valencia’s second goal)
Ronald Koeman decided to use the painfully known by social media activists substitution of a forward player for a central defender when having the lead. Minutes after scoring a goal Griezmann went off and Lenglet came on to defend the fragile lead and that eventually secured the three points. Not by any means a highlight performance from Barcelona but three points that may be vital at the end of the season.
With the pace of Atletico Madrid at the top of the league, they are 10 points clear with a game in hand and seemingly impossible to reach, the objective for Barcelona maybe what was accomplished last night – 2nd place and finish above Real Madrid.