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FC Barcelona succeeded in extending their incredible unbeaten league run to 36 games with a comfortable home win against Athletic Club thanks to goals from Alcácer and Messi during a fantastic first-half attacking display.
The game started with Athletic pressing Barça high up the pitch. Within a few minutes Messi had shown a couple of nice touches and was fouled by San José on the edge of the box. The Argentinian, fresh from his fabulous display against Chelsea, stood over the ball ominously. However, the Athletic keeper was equal to his well-struck effort.
Alcácer’s early opener
In the 8th minute, Alba picked up the ball and produced a fantastic cross for his eighth assist of the season. Strangely, it wasn’t for Messi, as Alcácer took a touch and rifled past Kepa. The striker’s finish was impressive and gave him and the blaugranas the perfect start to the game.
The blaugranas roared into life following the opener. Kepa had to make a quick-fire double save from Messi as Dembélé caused plenty of problems on the wing. In the 13th minute, Barça attacked down the right through the full-back Sergi Roberto’s excellent cross to Alba who cushioned the ball back to Coutinho. The Brazilian smashed his shot against the crossbar before the defence managed to scramble clear.
Athletic managed to calm the game down a little following Barça’s blistering opening but this didn’t last long and soon enough Athletic were under pressure again. The next effort almost doubled Barça’s lead. Rakitic won the ball and released Messi, who fed Alba. The flying full-back passed to Dembélé, however, the winger’s strong shot was saved by the young keeper Kepa, who was playing incredibly well.
Messi makes it two
The opposition’s keeper was no match for the magisterial Messi, who shot low and hard into the bottom right corner of the goal to make it 2-0 in the 29th minute. His finish was as good as the move that created the chance; Sergi Roberto, Paulinho and Dembélé all combined beautifully to put the Argentinian in space on the edge of the box.
Raul Garcia received a yellow for a foul and there were a series of fouls on Messi in the middle of the pitch as Athletic attempted to interrupt Messi and the blaugranas’ impressive passing rhythm. Dembélé was playing well but he was given a yellow for bringing Saborit down on a rare foray forward from the Basque side. Lecue then stopped Messi illegally as the Argentinian broke forwards and was also cautioned.
In the 43rd minute, the livewire Dembélé carried the ball down the pitch again and picked out Paulinho, who saw his effort strike the post. Possession was shared equally in the opening half but the home side had produced the better football and were deservedly 2-0 up.
Athletic started the second half like the first, with some good pressing high up the pitch ending with an effort from Lecue, which whistled just past Ter Stegen’s post. Saborit then shot wide as Coutinho tracked back and did enough to put the Athletic player off. Piqué and Umtiti needed to be alert in this second half as the Basque side put the blaugranas under pressure. However, Ter Stegen didn’t have to make any saves of note. The captain Iniesta replaced Dembélé in the 63rd minute and quickly showed his close ball control by going past three Athletic players.
Jordi Alba did some good defending as he snuffed out a dangerous ball aimed at the substitute Williams and then headed clear at the back post. Aduriz was sent on by Ziganda as he looked to get his side back in the game. Valverde responded by replacing the goal scorer Alcácer for Aleix Vidal. Aduriz almost fashioned a goal as he ran on to a good through ball but was flagged marginally offside.
A professional second-half performance from the blaugranas secured the three points as they held the Basque side at bay. The La Liga lead over Atlético has extended to eleven points, ahead of Atlético’s game against Villarreal later on the Sunday, following this impressive display from the blaugranas at home against Ernesto Valverde’s old side.
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