FC Barcelona have been in an incredible dominant run in 2015 and that continued last weekend with an emphatic 5-2 win at San Mamés, where the Catalans hadn’t got a win since 2010. This result is even more remarkable considering that the pressure was truly on; a day before, Real Madrid had lost 4-0 at the Caldéron, so a win for Barcelona at San Mamés would mean cutting the gap at the top to a mere 1 points, thus regaining control over their own destiny in the league, and seize the momentum in the title race. The response could hardly have been any better, with a stunning performance and emphatic win at one of the most difficult grounds in La Liga.
First Half Analysis
Athletic started the match pretty brightily, pressuring Barcelona all over the pitch, forcing some bad passes and creating some mildly dangerous chances on the counterattack, which the Barcelona defense and Claudio Bravo did well to deal with. The turning point of the match came on the 15th minute, where a Lionel Messi freekick 30m from goal found the net after a slight deflection to give Barcelona the lead. After that, the Catalans settled and started imposing their style with their passing becoming increasingly fluid and accurate. They started regularly stretching the Athletic defense, finding gaps and creating plenty of scoring chances, one of them requiring a truly incredible save from Gorka Iraizoz to a Suarez header. Athletic created two chances of their own, with Claudio Bravo having to do one magnificent save of his own to keep Barcelona in the lead.
But just when it seemed that Athletic were releasing themselves from the Barcelona pressure, a fantastic counterattack involving all of Barcelona’s famous attacking trio ended with a thunderous Suarez shot to make it 0-2 on the 26th minute. In the remainder of the first half, Barcelona dominated and created plenty of chances, with Athletic unable to leave their own half of the pitch for the most part, but the likes of Neymar and especially Xavi couldn’t convert what looked like great scoring chances. Still, Barcelona led 2-0 at the half and it looked like it was inevitable that they’d be a mere 1 point behind Real Madrid at the end of the night.
Second Half Analysis
The second half started with an even higher tempo than the first, with both teams creating chances to score but not quite finishing them until an Unai Lopez through ball found Aduriz through on goal and Claudio Bravo’s deflection ended at the feet of Mikel Rico, who found the empty net to make it 1-2 and make the San Mamés roar. But as they started pressuring even harder in search for the equalizer, Athletic conceded more and more space at the back, which Rakitic duly exploited, finding Suarez alone on the right, who in turn found Messi alone in the box; as per usual the Argentine didn’t falter in front of goal and made it 1-3 at the 62nd minute. Not content with his 2 goals and 1 assist for the night, two minutes later Messi began and orchestrated the attacking move that’d lead to Barcelona’s fourth goal, with Xavi assisting Neymar for a quite sensational finish that pretty much decided the match once and for all. Just like in recent matches, Barcelona have shown a much improved ability to soak up some pressure and surprise the opposition with deadly counterattacks, with the likes of Messi, Neymar and Suarez wreacking havoc. This new dimension in team’s game was on full show at San Mamés yet again.
True to their reputation as resilient and defiant to the last, Athletic didn’t throw in the towel at any point and kept looking to reverse the proceedings and after coming close on quite a few occasions earlier in the match, Aduriz finally got on the scoresheet three minutes later to cut the deficit to 2-4 and making it 3 goals in 7 minutes overall in this match. Luis Enrique took off Xavi and got Rafinha in, which slowed down the frantic tempo of the match a bit, though that also happened because of Etxeita’s brutal tackle on Luis Suarez that led to him beint sent off. After the vicious tackle, Luis Enrique took off Suarez as a precaution and got Pedro in. Pedro would end up scoring the 5th goal in the dying minutes, finishing a move where Lionel Messi once against displayed all his genius to cap off a great team performance and win. The match itself was quite fantastic, at least until Etxeita’s sending off, with the final 15 minutes being played at a much slower tempo and intensity.
Barcelona are back to their best and have the momentum in the La Liga title race; only 1 point behind Real Madrid, who still have to travel to the Camp Nou in about a month, there’s every reason for Barcelona to be optimistic going forward, especially as Lionel Messi seems to be absolutely back to his best and he’s clicking brilliantly with Suarez and Neymar up front. With the sort of form, Barcelona have displayed over the past month and once again this weekend, the sky is the limit.
Athletic, on the other hand, haven’t managed to turn around their relatively poor season here, but if they bring this same intensity to ‘lesser’ matches, they might well climb up a few spots in the table, although European qualification seems quite unlikely at the moment.