A match between Barcelona and the opposition from the north is always sure to be a good one. With Paco Alcácer starting in place of Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Neymar up front, the midfield was made up of André Gomes, Arda Turan, and Rafinha. The defense included Aleix Vidal, Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Jeremy Mathieu. With Marc-André ter Stegen in goal, the match was off.
Bilbao started off, as they are wont to do, with high pressure on Barça. In the opening minutes, a through ball from Vidal on the right side threaded the needle to Paco Alcácer, who was somehow able to get a ball to Neymar in the box. His left footed shot was wide of the goal. Just a few minutes later, a Barcelona slip up in defense left Raúl García one-on-one with ter Stegen, but his shot hit the post before being swept away by Umtiti. Later, Iñaki Williams would miss a point-blank header.
In the first half, Bilbao’s pressure was suffocating, but ter Stegen (much like the game in San Mamés when he broke the Liga record for passes by a keeper) was able to keep it 0-0. In the 18th minute, Neymar whipped the ball into the box for a Paco left footed stike that found the back of the net. His first league goal for Barcelona had finally come, and he celebrated like he’d been waiting his whole life for it.
While Bilbao might have been the better team throughout the first half, Messi’s free kick at its end (from an impossible angle no less) was nothing short of remarkable. While Iraizoz, Bilbao’s keeper, was expecting the ball to be lofted in for a cross, Messi went directly for goal. Unable to stop it, the ball went in and Barça went into the break 2-0.
Javier Mascherano came on for Piqué to start the second half, while Rafinha had to leave in the 54th minute. After a scary head injury (that gave him a serious ouchie) after a collision with ter Stegen, he was subbed for Ivan Rakitić. Midway through the second, with Ernesto Valverde’s Bilbao side slightly subdued, Aleix Vidal somehow managed to hold on to the ball in the box despite it being tipped and Neymar passing right in front of him to score a third and make it 3-0.
From then on, they went through the motions. Having rotated players (no doubt with the Tuesday clash against Atletico in mind) Barcelona took care of business. And while Bibao did knock on the door a few times, there was nothing seriously threatening past the halfway mark of the first half. Overall, a solid game for us, and another three points.