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Aleix Vidal (right) gets a high-five from Neymar after scoring Barça's third goal of the game and 100th of the season in the 68th minute of Saturday's 3–0 victory over Athletic Club at Camp Nou. | MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB

Paco Alcácer and Lionel Messi notched first-half goals and Aleix Vidal tacked on another in the second as FC Barcelona breezed to a 3–0 victory over Athletic Club on Saturday afternoon in front of 83,884 fans at Camp Nou.

The Catalans applied their customary tactical approach and exploited the Basques' system to perfection to secure an important home triumph and keep the pressure on La Liga leaders Real Madrid. Barça are now, provisionally, just one point behind their arch-rivals in the league standings.

Barça took a 1–0 lead in the 18th minute after Neymar reeled in a long pass from Vidal and quickly jettisoned defender Óscar de Marcos, stopping just short of the touch line before picking out Alcácer, who squared up and one-timed past the goalkeeper, Gorka Iraizoz, from just beyond the edge of the six-yard box.

 

It was Alcácer’s first league goal of the season and second overall. The assist gave Neymar his seventh of the season, tied for second best in La Liga.

Barça doubled their lead in the 40th, when Messi scored on a free kick from an angle so tight it surprised even Messi himself, who paused for a brief, skeptical moment before raising his arms in celebration.

 

The kick was set up when Athletic defender Mikel Balenziaga sent Vidal — who was making a deep run down the right flank — tumbling to the turf midway between the corner flag and the penalty area. When the referee gave the go-ahead, Messi fired a waist-high line drive directly at Iraizoz. But Raul Garcia, who was covering the near post and appeared ready to clear the shot, made a tardy decision to let the ball fly by, flummoxing Iraizoz. The goalkeeper was in position and got both hands on the ball, but he deflected it straight down off the turf and back up into the top of the net.

On the play, Messi surpassed Ronald Koeman to become Barça’s all-time leader in free-kick goals with 27. Messi has now scored 21 goals in his last 26 games against Athletic Club across all competitions. It was Messi’s 16th La Liga goal this season, leaving him tied for the league lead with teammate Luis Suárez.

 

Suárez, who had been on fire as of late while scoring eight goals in his previous seven games, was given the day off. It hardly mattered.

At the other end of the field, Barça goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen was stellar in goal, keeping Athletic off the scoreboard with a pair of fine saves early in the game. The first came on a point-blank shot by García — which then caromed off the post and away from danger — while the second was the fruit of Ter Stegen's quick reflexes, which allowed the German goalkeeper to kick away a menacing, tight-angle shot from the boot of Iñaki Williams.

Vidal tacked on another goal for Barça in the 67th, when he bamboozled a pair of defenders in the midfield and, at the end of yet another long, meandering run, slotted in past one final defender, and Iraizoz too, to make it 3–0.

 

Vidal’s goal was his second of the season, both of which have come in league play. And it represented a milestone for Barça, giving the Blaugranas their 100th goal of the season across all competitions.

On Saturday, Barça won the battle for possession, 54%–46% and outshot Athletic, 16–10.

 

Saturday’s match was the fourth and final clash between Barça and Athletic this season. Barça won three of those games, including a 1–0, week two league triumph in Bilbao back on 28 August (Highlights, Match Report) and a 3–1 victory at Camp Nou in the return leg of the Copa del Rey round of 16 last month (Highlights, Match Report).

For Athletic Club — which opened 2017 by beating Barça, 2–1 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey last 16 at the San Mamés — Saturday’s defeat snaps a five-game unbeaten streak in La Liga.

The victory is Barça’s seventh in their last eight versus Athletic Club in all competitions and is their 13th straight over Los Leones at Camp Nou, Barça’s best-ever home winning streak against the Basques.

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