Barcelona hit 5 past Athletic Bilbao to register a comfortable win, and in the process continue to remain in the title race with just 1 point behind leaders Real Madrid. The victory continued to prove that there was no problem in the dressing room, especially any rift between Lionel Messi and Luis Enrique.

First Half

Over the last 3 years, Barcelona has had problems getting a result at Athletic Bilbao, drawing twice and losing once, but the Barca players ensured that streak would end, and with an emphatic win at that. It didn’t start easy though, with Bilbao giving a tough time in the opening exchanges. However, they could not convert any chances into goals, and this was the type of game where the opening goal makes a huge difference. Their best chance was when Aduriz hit the post, and was denied a goal.

Instead, it was the Blaugrana that opened the scoring, courtesy of a deflected free kick from Lionel Messi. Messi has been on a hot streak, dispelling any controversy that he has a problem with the manager. It was practically Barcelona after that, with Luis Suarez having a header saved by goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz. But Suarez made amends for that by scoring a goal in the 26th minute, from just outside the box. Barcelona were in complete control of the tie, and it certainly seemed like there was no way in for Bilbao. Bilbao did not have too many chances in the first half, and they were left to rue not making the opening minutes count.

Second Half

The second half was a lot more entertaining, with five goals being scored. It started with Bilbao pulling one goal back thanks to a close range effort from Mikel Roco. Initially, the Barca keeper Claudio Bravo saved Aritz Aduriz’s shot, but it fell nicely for Roco to finish and get Bilbao back into the game. But the joy was short-lived as just 2 minutes later Barcelona restored their 2 goal lead, thanks to an own goal from Oscar de Marcos. The initial shot was from Messi but it was the unfortunate de Marcos who turned it in.

The tie was as good as dead almost immediately, when just 2 minutes later Neymar scored a goal of his own to end any hopes of a comeback from Athletic Bilbao. However, Aduriz wasn’t going to take it lying down, and on a night when his manager would be encouraged by the way he played, Aduriz scored a goal just 3 minutes after Neymar, bringing the score to 4-2, giving a glimmer of hope to the home side. The Barcelona defence made some simple mistakes while conceding the goals and Luis Enrique would want to make sure that the errors are ironed out or else better teams will punish them.

However, it was a dead rubber as soon as Bilbao were reduced to 10 men, with Xabier Etxeita shown the red card for a horrendous challenge on Suarez. Barcelona piled on the pressure and would have had even more goals if it wasn’t for Neymar’s wastefulness. He had 3 clear cut opportunities but rather than put them away, he tried to do it with difficult chips that cost Barca the goals. His 3rd chance was a one on one with the goalkeeper but he blasted it straight at the keeper. There was still one goal in the game, with Messi setting up the goal for Pedro through a Busquets for the final scoreline of 2-5 to Barca.

Key Facts

–          With 106 assists, Lionel Messi is now level with Luis Figo for the most number of assists in the La Liga and it won’t be long before the Argentine makes that record his too.

–          Barcelona have now won 9 games on the trot in all competitions, putting aside the talks of crisis that were going on after a bust up between Luis Enrique and Lionel Messi in the beginning of January.

–          Following Real’s loss to Atletico Madrid, Barcelona are now only 1 point behind the league leaders with 16 games to go.

Barcelona are back in the title hunt, and there seems to be no crisis whatsoever, especially with all 3 South Americans in the forward line contributing with goals and hitting their stride at the right time. If all 3 can keep producing this form, they will be one of the most feared front 3 in the world.