Barcelona continued their march towards the record unbeaten run in La Liga as they cruised to a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on Sunday
The hosts took charge of the game from the word go, taking the lead in no time as Paco Alcacer buried Jordi Alba’s cut-back into the back of the net just eight minutes in. They subsequently kept on piling the pressure before doubling the advantage at the half-hour mark, when Lionel Messi was picked out by Ousmane Dembele.
Barcelona could have added to their tally before half-time, but the woodwork stood in their way on each occasion. Post the break, the Catalans took their foot off the gas. But while Bilbao did grow into the game as the minutes passed by, they could not create any major chance to trouble Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 18, 2018
In the end, Barcelona held on for all three point, extending their lead atop the La Liga table to 11 points, with Atletico Madrid failing to win their game later in the day. They are now just two unbeaten games away from equalling the longest unbeaten run in Spanish top-flight. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 6/10
Another day, another game when ter Stegen was barely called into action as Barcelona dominated much of the proceedings of a game. On Sunday, the German didn’t have to do anything extraordinary, although his abilities on the ball did help the hosts retain possession, and build up from the back in an effective manner.
Sergi Roberto: 7/10
Roberto’s star was on the rise once again on Sunday as he was typically industrious at the back, negating the threat of the Bilbao attack on his side while also playing his part in the final third. His link up with Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi down the right flank was impeccable as the Spaniard added to the numbers in the front.
Gerard Pique: 7/10
Pique seems to be rediscovering his best form at the perfect time of the season. With Umtiti not exactly performing at a top level, the veteran has been a commanding presence at the back. As in recent games, nothing went past him in the air, and the Spain international was also confident in one-on-one situations while also building well from the back.
Samuel Umtiti: 6.5/10
Umtiti was largely solid on Sunday, bar a few moments when he got too excited too quickly. Like Pique, the Frenchman was commanding in aerial situations, but he went for balls he shouldn’t have, here and there, and was also booked for a tangle with Unai Nunez. But, there were good moments as well as he made a crucial block on Sabin Merino in the second half.
Jordi Alba: 8/10
8 – Jordi Alba has provided 8 assists for Barcelona in this season; no La Liga defender made more than Alba. Tray. pic.twitter.com/Q7APSfHPW8
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 18, 2018
Alba turned in another strong performance in what continues to be a season of resurgence for him. Solid at the back, the Spaniard saw very little going behind him on his side.
But, he made his major impact in the final third, putting an inch-perfect cut-back for Paco Alcacer, and he could have made a few more assists, if not for the woodwork. Perhaps the best left-back in the world at the moment..
Ousmane Dembele: 7/10
Dembele picked up from where he left off against Chelsea as he continued building the understanding with his teammates, particularly with Messi on the right side. This was palpable at the half-hour mark as Barcelona doubled their lead thanks to the Frenchman, who picked out Messi superbly. Quieter in the second half, when the entire side had gone into cruise control.
With Busquets unavailable, Paulinho got a chance to play in his favoured role in the middle, a position that Ivan Rakitic has reprised for much of 2018. The familiarity of the role helped the Brazilian, who was more confident in his forward forays, always making himself available around the Bilbao box. He even came close to scoring, with the crossbar denying him.
Ivan Rakitic: 8/10
Filling in for an injured Sergio Busquets, Rakitic was supreme in the holding midfield role, using his work-rate to good effect by absorbing just about every Bilbao play down the middle. His passing abilities were then used to relay the ball forward smartly. A gem at Ernesto Valverde’s disposal, evidenced by the fact that talismanic Busquets wasn’t missed.
Philippe Coutinho: 7.5/10
Playing one game a week has done him a world of good and Coutinho continued to make the left side of the Barcelona midfield his own on Sunday. His understanding with Alba is growing with each passing game, with the Spaniard picking him out in the first half, only to see the woodwork stand in his way.
Up front, his ability to create chances out of nothing, thanks largely to his impeccable close control, was palpable once again, with Coutinho’s link-up with Messi quite delightful as well.
Lionel Messi: 8/10
As is the case more often than not, Messi was the most potent threat for Barcelona. The diminutive Argentine already had three shots saved just 12 minutes into the game, and finally got his goal after 30 minutes – the sixth successive game when he found the back of the net.
That goal was the 25th in the league this season, and he could have had more on any other day. Messi seems to be playing at a level higher than he ever has, and that is not even the most dangerous prospect for his opponents. The little magician is also enjoying his football, which makes him even an even bigger threat.
Paco Alcacer: 7/10
Alcacer received a rare start on Sunday, owing to Luis Suarez’s absence through suspension, and he showed his value in the Barcelona squad. The Spaniard didn’t let the hosts miss his fellow striker much, putting his side into the lead less than ten minutes into the game – a goal that showcased his intelligence.
He was always a threat inside the Bilbao box, making smart runs to find pockets of space to be picked out by his teammates. He also put in a shift defensively and was the first line of defence for his side.
Andres Iniesta: 6/10
On for Dembele, Iniesta’s arrival into the game came at the perfect moment as he helped Barcelona regain control of the proceedings just when Bilbao were starting to grow. His ability to pick out the right pass came in handy, and it’s clear that Barcelona aren’t ready to lose him just yet.