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League championships are won on road trips like this. Ivan Rakitic may have put Barça 1-0 up after just twenty minutes but try as they could the Catalans could not add to their lead on a wet and physical night in the Basque Country. A solid workmanlike performance saw them through to the final whistle and confirmation of the 100th win of the Luis Enrique era.
Rakitic … one-nil!
Barça powered into the game and Arda Turan had found the net after just seven minutes, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside. Athletic had their chances too, and Beñat really should have done better when Ter Stegen’s clearance landed right in his path.
But the Catalans always looked the more dangerous of the two teams, and hence fully deserved to take the lead in the 20th minute when a delightful counter-attack ended with Turan lofting the ball into the area and Ivan Rakitic thumping it home with his head.
Denis Suárez and Samuel Umtiti both had chances to put Barça’s further ahead shortly afterwards, while Turan was left kicking himself just before the break when he sent Leo Messi’s pass into the side-netting. In the meantime, Athletic had only threatened on very isolated occasions – coming closest when Ter Stegen made saving Aduriz’s powerful strike look deceptively easy.
Chasing a second
Aymeric Laporte’s header straight after the restart was a reminder that the three points were far from secure yet. And such exquisite football as that which led to Luis Suárez’s spectacular volley on 57 minutes or the shot that Messi, making his 350th appearance, rifled over the bar ten minutes later served for nothing as long as Athletic were still just one goal away from equalising.
Luis Suárez did everything apart from hit the target as he danced his way round two Basque defenders with ten minutes left on the clock. This game still wasn’t over – and the San Mamés groaned with frustration when Beñat’s excellent free-kick skimmed just wide of Ter Stegen’s post.
Manager Ernesto Valverde had promised before the game that Athletic would battle right to the end, and that is precisely what happened – with Eneko Boveda getting the final hurrah in the last second of injury time as he managed to get a leg to what looked a certain goal for Luis Suárez.
With what tends to be one of the trickiest away trips in the competition now successfully out of the way, La Liga now takes a week off as attention switches to the international stage and World Cup 2018 qualifying matches.
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