Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona: Score and Reaction from 2016 LaLiga Match
Luis Enrique records his 100th win as @FCBarcelona's head coach, taking only 126 games to reach the milestone pic.twitter.com/KpalEKDBEAEnrique made some intriguing selection decisions, including keeping Samuel Umtiti in defence ahead of Javier Mascherano....
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Ivan Rakitic scored to put Barcelona second in LaLiga after a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Sunday. Rakitic's first-half goal capped one of a host of stunning counter-attacks from the reigning champions.
Although Barca couldn't add to their tally, they did enough to set the early-season pace ahead of bitter rivals Real Madrid. Yet the pair still trail surprise package Las Palmas at the top.
The game also marked the 100th win for Luis Enrique as Barcelona manager, per Sky Sports Statto, who out his achievement into context alongside other high-profile current and former managers:
Luis Enrique records his 100th win as @FCBarcelona's head coach, taking only 126 games to reach the milestone pic.twitter.com/KpalEKDBEA— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 28, 2016
Enrique made some intriguing selection decisions, including keeping Samuel Umtiti in defence ahead of Javier Mascherano. He also put Denis Suarez in midfield, while Arda Turan took Neymar's place in the front three, with the latter recovering from the Olympics.
Umtiti and Co. were bound to be tested by veteran Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz, who would be supplemented by Inaki Williams from the flanks.
LaLiga English detailed both starting lineups:
Ernesto Valverde & Luis Enrique have named their starting XIs at San Mames.#AthleticBarca pic.twitter.com/Ht9HGZ48nr— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) August 28, 2016
It was Suarez who blazed over after a sweeping counter from the visitors inside the first five minutes. Lionel Messi played in Rakitic, and the Croatian playmaker eventually worked it to the former Villarreal midfielder, but his shot was wild.
It was a sign of Barca's intent, though. The ball was even in the Bilbao net seconds later after Messi again raced clear. His precise pass found Suarez, who squared for Turan to tap in, but the former was caught out by the home side's orderly offside trap.
At the other end, new Barca fist-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen played himself into trouble and was forced into saving from Benat Etxebarria. The chance came from a terrible pass by the German 'keeper, one intended for Sergio Busquets but hopelessly wayward.
BBC Sport's Andy West explained how Barcelona's fondness for playing out from the back can be a two-edged sword this season:
Barca's confidence on the ball in defence is outrageous. It will cost them few goals, no doubt. But also lead to a lot more in their favour.— Andy West (@andywest01) August 28, 2016
Meanwhile, Williams tormented Barca off the right flank. The winger ran left-back Jordi Alba ragged and whipped in a couple of wicked crosses to cue panic stations in the box for the visitors.
Yet Barca still proved deadly on the break. Their breakthrough came when Luis Suarez found Turan with a delicious reverse pass. The Turkish schemer then lofted a terrific cross to the far post that a buccaneering Rakitic met with a crashing header.
Sky Sports Statto showed the finish and confirmed Barca's prolific form away from home:
Rakitic heads the 1st goal at San Mames, Barcelona have now scored 14 times since last conceding an away league goal pic.twitter.com/OiXjgKKcbZ— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 28, 2016
Turan's contribution also maintained his excellent creative output at the start of this season, according to OptaJose:
6 - No other La Liga player has been involved in more goals than Arda Turan this season (3 goals, 3 assists; all comps). Phoenix.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 28, 2016
Barca's passing and movement were fantastic on either flank. Messi soon found Sergi Roberto on the overlap on the right, and his low cross gave Denis Suarez two chances to score, but he could take neither.
Messi then nearly nodded one down for Luis Suarez to tap in after a raking Gerard Pique pass found the Barca No. 10 in the centre-forward position. However, Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz swatted the ball away from the Uruguayan.
Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press Suarez was struggling for room in the box.
Turan should have doubled the lead seconds before the break, but he placed his shot inches wide after being found in the box by Messi. The wasted opportunity kept Athletic in touch at the break.
Despite the miss, Turan caused Bilbao a host of problems. A byproduct of Williams' raiding runs was the ample space left behind for Turan.
Barca didn't let up after the break, with Messi arrowing a vicious shot a shade wide early on. The visitors were altogether too comfortable, as this statistic showed:
10 mins into the 2nd half & Marc-Andre ter Stegen has had more touches (52) than Messi (47) & 4 other Barca players pic.twitter.com/VMyNoitBnX— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 28, 2016
Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde needed more going forward and promptly introduced supporting striker Raul Garcia to add more aerial power up top. It nearly worked when the sub combined with Aduriz to tee up Williams, but Ter Stegen got behind his shot.
It was then Enrique's turn to ring the changes. He gave Mascherano some minutes at the expense of Umtiti while also swapping Suarez for new signing Andre Gomes in midfield.
The changes didn't alter Barca's shape, however. West noticed a change in formation from the start, one he felt affected the way the Blaugrana approached this game:
I'm guessing Luis Enrique went with 4-4-2 for extra passing options in midfield, so they can draw Athletic's high press and counter quickly.— Andy West (@andywest01) August 28, 2016
Another of those quick counters should have secured the points for Barcelona when Suarez was sent clear by Roberto. But the striker curled his shot wide after slyly dragging the ball around centre-back Aymeric Laporte, who was otherwise outstanding on the net.
Bilbao pressed at the other end and came close when Benat clipped a free-kick narrowly wide. The Guardian's Sid Lowe indicated how close the midfielder came to equalising:
Ooooh. Half of San Mames thought Beñat has scored a blinder there— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) August 28, 2016
Bilbao huffed and puffed but couldn't find the equaliser.
Afterwards, Enrique indicated how winning at a difficult venue can boost belief for his title hopefuls, per the club: