Athletic 1-2 Barcelona: Catalans survive late Bilbao scare

Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar da Silva Santos Junior (R) celebrates a goal with teammate forward Munir El Haddadi during the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) football match Athletic Club de Bilbao vs FC Barcelona at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on January 20, 2016. AFP PHOTO / ANDER GILLENEA / AFP / ANDER GILLENEA

Barcelona survived a late scare from Athletic Bilbao to secure a 2-1 away victory at San Mames in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg.

Two goals in six first-half minutes from Munir and Neymar saw Barcelona 2-0 up against Athletic Bilbao at half time but the home side rallied after the break but left it late as they could only manage a consolation through Aduriz with one minute left on the clock. Despite the late scare, Barcelona held on to return home with the first leg advantage ahead of the return leg on Wednesday 27th January, 2016.

Jordi Alba’s injury, coupled with a refusal to risk Lionel Messi’s fitness and Luis Suarez’s two-game ban, which ruled him out of the entire tie, paved the way for Sergi Roberto’s inclusion at left-back and Arda Turan and Munir El Haddadi flanking Neymar in attack.

The home side on the other hand, dropped goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz for his early red card in the 6-0 defeat to Barcelona at the weekend, along with Mikel San Jose, while Inaki Williams moved out to the left in order to accommodate the returning Aritz Aduriz.

A bright start from Athletic failed to catch fire, giving Barcelona the belief to grow into the match and open the scoring as Munir capped off a wonderful breakaway from a corner, with Ivan Rakitic supplying a pinpoint ball across Herrerin’s goal for the forward to slide home.

Moments later, the Luis Enrique’s men doubled their lead, this time through Neymar who was a constant threat down the left wing. The Brazilian capitalized on Inigo Lekue’s failure to read Sergi Roberto’s through pass and Herrerin’s reckless dive to simply round the goalkeeper and tap his finish into an empty net.

After the break, Bilbao began to ask questions but for all their efforts, they unable to break down the resolute Barcelona defense that had coughed up four goals earlier this season at San Mamés in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Ter Stegen, who had endured a horror show in last August’s defeat, was solid and made a flying 81st minute save off an Athletic corner kick.

Just when it seemed like the host were going to return home with a clean sheet, an Alves error in the 89th minute gave possession to Mikel San José, who found Aritz Aduriz with the former Valencia man beating Ter Stegen to make it a 2-1. San Mamés burst into life with the goal, and less than a minute later the fans nearly rocked the walls off with a Sabin Merino that looked goal-bound, but again the German was there to make an enormous save as Barcelona saw out the three minutes of stoppage time without any further incident.