Ivan Rakitic’s lone strike enured head coach Luis Enrique bagged his 100th win as the Catalans’ boss, condeming Athletic Bilbao to their second defeat of the new season at the San Mames Barria stadium on Sunday.
Marc-André ter Stegen returned to the starting line up for Barcelona while Javier Mascherano was named on the bench having recovered in time for their inclusion in the 18-man Barcelona squad. Rafinha who was the Brazil gold winning squad at the Rio Olympics and Euro 2016 Champions and new club recruit Andre Gomes both made the bench.
Andrés Iniesta and Jérémy Mathieu missed the trip through injury. Neymar Jr was given special permission not to report back to work until after the international break, while new signing Jasper Cillessen was not selectable until Monday for legal reasons.
For the home side Athletic, Mikel San José missed the match with back trouble, Mikel Balenziaga was fielded albeit wearing nasal protection following a nasty knock in the face last weekend against Sportin Gijon.
Barcelona carved out the game’s first chance through Denis Suarez, who was unmarked when he received Lionel Messi’s volleyed pass in the box after Luis Suarez’s initial pass was blocked, but the midfielder could only blaze his curling effort over the crossbar.
Moments after Barca’s first warning shot, they had the ball in net through Arda Turan from Suarez’s cutback across an empty net, but the pair along with Messi were a yard offside when the original pass was floated into the Athletic area.
Still, the champions proceeded to break the deadlock as Mikel Balenziaga completely lost his man at the far post when Arda whipped a pinpoint cross towards the far post, an unmarked Rakitic ghosting in to power home a header.
Athletic, however, were never out of contention and maintained their thirst for high pressing and possession as the half wore thin. Markel Susaeta teed up Aritz Aduriz for a clear shot on the edge of the Barca box, but the striker’s daisy-cutter was seen all the way by Ter Stegen, who then kept out a swerving Benat Etxebarria drive.
Frustratingly for Los Leones, they were on the receiving end of some devastating transition play from Barca, Messi having sprung the hosts’ offside trap and glanced a long ball on target with his head, although Gorka Iraizoz acrobatically pushed it away.
The Catalans, though, should’ve entered the break two to the good as Arda was found unmarked in the Athletic box, albeit at a tight angle, but could only toe-poke the ball into side-netting.