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In front of an empty Camp Nou, Barça have secured three vital points against a rock solid Athletic Club side that made them work very hard indeed for the win.
Athletic had beaten Barça in the league and cup already this season, and made a brave start in their bid to register their first league victory at Camp Nou since 2001. Barça had most of the ball and Leo Messi was in inspired form on the eve of his 33rd birthday but the Basques did an effective job of making sure not too much came of it.
Tight first half
And the rapid red-and-white counter attack was a serious concern. Unai López and Iñaki Williams were especially worrying. For the neutral it was an intriguing encounter, but for Barça fans it was agonising. The killer moves in the opposition’s box were never quite connecting and the first half ended without score.
Rakitic seals it
The second half began as a considerably less eventful affair, with Antoine Griezmann having the only real shot until the 71st minute - which is when the deadlock was finally broken.
It was Messi’s chance but he struggled with the control, and instead it was substitute Ivan Rakitic who was on hand to rattle the ball home and celebrate his first league goal of the season.
The goal injected new life into the game. Messi was particularly active in search of his 700th career goal. It didn’t come tonight, but it will do very soon.
Athletic refused to give up. An equaliser was never out of the question and they had more than a couple of chance to get them. But Barça held on and deep into injury time could have made it two when Ansu Fati struck the post from close range.
So, an impressive fifth consecutive clean sheet and more importantly three golden points that pile the pressure on Real Madrid, who play Mallorca tomorrow night.
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