There's no shame in losing to goals Messi, Suarez and Neymar.. and the Basques can go home with their heads held high.
Barcelona played in second gear most of the 90 mins, but turned it on when needed and let out a statement of intent to everyone in Spain - write them off at your own bloody risk. Suarez and Neymar now remember what scoring feels like, and Messi is enjoying his football. That's a potent darn combination.
It was a pleasure bring the match to you - and thank you for reading.
Anirudh Menon signing out.. have a wonderful night's sleep.
91' Three minutes to be added on and Messi takes the ball to the corner - no one is taking the ball off him - but the Argentine gets bored and offloads it to Rakitic who finds Roberto who in turn passes it to Suarez who is in ACRES of space. The Uruguayan unselfishly rolls it into the feet of Denis Suarez, but the young man flashes it over the bar. The senior Suarez is not best pleased. Unselfishness and all is okay - but you better finish when he gifts you a chance!
89' Inaki Williams is still full of running, and tries to get in behind Sergi Roberto, but the experienced head of Gerard Pique is covering behind him. Just as Puyol used to do so for the young Pique. Ah! It's so nice to see someone mature in front of your own eyes neh.
87' Athletic are going route-one now, and there's nothing wrong with that - but Benat's long ball is just too much for Balenziaga to bring under control. Meanwhile another standing ovation for a surprisingly under-par Andres Iniesta (he always deserve a standing ovation, though) and on comes Arda Turan.
86' Neymar gets a standing ovation as he gets substituted for Denis Suarez. I suspect that was Lucho's intention - to let the Brazilian know just how much the fans love him. If the smile on Neymar's face is any indication, he knows it.
83' Bilbao are still in with a shout, a very faint shout, but they should not just give up the ghost. And they aren't doing anything of the sort... but Susueta gets marshalled away by Pique - and the ball is back in the visitors' third in the blink of an eye.
80' ya Neymar, ya Neymar, ya Neymar. The Brazilian showed some astonishing twinkling feet as he sent three Basque defenders sliding all over the Camp Nou turf before smacking the ball gainst the post from all of five yards! ya Neymaaar!
Athletic sought trouble, and trouble did find them. Messi does NOT miss three straight opportunities as he arrows the kick into the bottom corner. That caught everyone one out! WHAT A PLAYER THIS MAN IS
73' Barcelona continue their patient probing. There is something truly admirable about the way they go about their business regardless of the situation, neh? Frustrating at times, but admirable nonetheless
72' Elmundo goes into the book for a hoof at the back of Neymar's leg - well deserved yellow that. For all the stick that Neymar gets for diving, we must also acknowledge the fact that he does in fact get kicked around like a rag doll
67' Luis Suarez hammers a shot at goal, but unusually for him he had hesitated before pulling the trigger - and that's well wide. These Barca superstars all look like they are not at a 100%... and that could cost them today.
66' Phew! What a series of passes that was from Barca. Neymar's golden first touch, Leo Messi's turn of pace and Iniesta's velcro-on-the-boots dribbling all featured in that - but nothing comes off it.
65' Barcelona are playing with the unhurried assurance of a team that knows it can win - but there is something wrong with Iniesta today, and the great man misplaces yet another through ball to Jordi Alba. It's almost painful watching him lose possession like this!
60' Iniesta tries to accelerate through the middle in that incredibly elegant way of his, but Laporte is not going to be beaten tonight. Jordi Alba tries to disprove that by driving in, and hammering a shot with his right foot, but it's a hammering only in his mind, and the ball rolls into the arms of Irazoiz
58' OH MY LORD! WHAT AN INTERCEPTION FROM THAT MAN LAPORTE! Mesis powered down the right byline and passed it into the six-yard box where Suarez waited - sure that he was going to get his second, but a sliding leg from the Basque talisman cut the ball out!
57' OW LEO MESSI! The Argentine wizard finds Neymar with a delicious crossfield ball, and Neymar digs it to the far post. After fencing with Laporte for a bit, Suarez works the space for shot, but it;s well wide.
55' The Frenchman then goes back to his comical side by slicing a cross in from the left out for a corner. Strangely Bilbao play it short and waste the opportunity to bring their undoubted aerial superiority into play
53' BIlbao have been roused by the goal, and Laporte does exceptionally well to win the ball off Messi and kickstart a passing move that would have made their opponents proud. Obviously Barca don't like people doing to them what they do to others - and Busquets goes diving in to concede a foul
Athletic are still very much in the game! Williams initial cross was blocked by Jordi Alba, but Benat ran in and put it deep where Saborit absolutely dominated Sergi Roberto in the air to plant a header into the back of the net.
It was excellent work from Neymar to win it in the first place as he tricked both Laporte and Boveda to slide in - and take him out in the process - inside the box. From the kick, he calmly sent Irazoiz the wrong way - what class from Messi and Suarez to let their goal-starved colleague the pen, eh?
Just to run you guys through the scenarios - should the score remain the same, Barca go through. Should Bilbao score one, Barca need two more to stop it going into extra time Should Bilbao score more than one, Barca should score two more
Barca lead the tie on away goals now (2-2 on aggregate), and have been full value for their lead on the day. They have been the only side that has looked likely to score, and if not for some iffy refereeing should have gone into the break two up.
Suarez has re-found his scoring boots (seriously, what a volley), and Neymar & Iniesta look incisive. Leo Messi is being Leo Messi - and that usually means only thing... A Barcelona victory.
45' Leo Messi is doing what he wants now. He does a give and go with three different players before feeding in Jordi Alba. The marauding left back lifts it to the far post, where Bilbao are forced to concede a corner. Nothing comes of it though
42' Inaki Williams is still causing all sorts of bother down the Barca left, but this time Jordi Alba joins forces with Umtiti - and Barcelona tiki-taka their way out of trouble in the most delightful manner. The crowd are still singing the praises of Pique.
40' Sergi Roberto tries to feed Suarez down the line, but nothing doing. Busquets gets the ball back and tries to play in Leo Messi with a nice little ball - but Laporte hauls the little man down. He's lucky to escape with a yellow - there was no one but the goalkeeper behind him! Another free kick in Leo territory, though.
39' Williams and Merino are playing as strike partners now - the camera pans to Aduriz, and he looks as surprised as that he is on the bench. Meanwhile on the pitch, Iniesta plays a rare miss-pass that runs straight out of play
38' Barcelona look a lot more settled and are tiki-taka-ing away to glory. Cillessen ruins it by pumping it forward with Williams bearing down on him - but Bilbao gift the ball back, and pass-pass-pass go Barcelona.
Leo Messi jinked in between three people, before feeding Neymar down the left. The Brazilian drove into the byline, looked up and saw Suarez on the far post and stood one up to the Uruguayan. He finished with an absolute sublime effort that had him airborne - a more magnificent volley, you will struggle to see all year!
33' Merino tries to run in behind Umtiti, but the under-fire Frenchman maintains his calm. At the other end, Jordi Alba is behind the defence, but is adjudged to have been offside when he got the ball. This time the line ref was right.
32' He can't recreate the magic of a few nights ago - the ball curved and swerved, but didn't dip enough to trouble either Irazoiz or the net. Athletic need to be careful with their fouling, though. How do you say - "Not in shooting distance, please" in Basque?
29' He's pulled something in the process it appears - Etxeita - and Elustondo jogs on in his place. The freekick meanwhile is pumped in by Iniesta - and Laporte rises majestically to head in clear. Of course he does.
27' Irazoiz gets a talking to for taking too much time with his goal kicks. Anymore of that nonsense and it will be a yelow. Etxeita does get into the naughty book though after an agricultural tackle on the league's most fouled player - Neymar.
25' THE BALL IS IN THE NET!!! BUT NOOOOOOOO!! Neymar was offside! Iniesta played in Neymar with a sumptuous through ball, and the Brazillian unselfishly rolled it across the box for Suarez to tap it in - exactly the kind of Playstation goal that Barca specialise in. But it's not be!
22' Messi has taken up station in the centre circle - and Bilbao's midfield will be well advised to keep an eye on him. He passes it to Iniesta who injects pace into the move by dribbling straight at the heart of the Basque defence. The ball is then worked out to Neymar, but the Brazilian is marshalled away superbly by Boveda. The unheralded right back has had the Barcelona superstar's number the whole tie.
19' Another promising Bilbao attack down the right breaks down after Williams ball has a little too much oomph on it for Saborit. Messi tries to prompt another attack, but Suarez takes the ball off his feet and passes it forward to Jordi Alba - but the left back's cross is comfortably cut out.
17' Lionel Messi gets bullied to the ground, but the ref waves play on. The ball comes back to the feet of the little Magician - a magnet he is, neh? - but for once he and Suarez are on different wavelengths and the Argentine's little dink runs harmlessly out of play
15' Jordi Alba shows he has lost none of his pace by running onto a clever reverse ball from Neymar and winning a corner. Barcelona pump it in, but predictably Laporte gets his noggin' to it before anyone else.
14' Everything good about Bilbao is flowing through Williams and the winger puts in yet another teasing cross from the right after some good passing in the middle of the park. Pique does well to clear - and his name rings around the cavernous arena
12' OH! OH! A comedy of errors almost gifts Bilbao a golden chance - First Umtiti kicks the ball straight to Beñat, and then Rafinha makes a hash of the clearance from Beñat's ball into the box - but a combination of Merino being a bit on his heels and Rafinha's quick reflexes saves the Barca man his blushes
11' Pace is such an unmatched threat is it not? Inaki Williams proves that once again as he gets on his scooter and drives at Jordi Alba, before slowing down and attempting to pick out Merino. Nothing doing.
5' Barcelona are warming to their task nicely - Suarez is up and buzzing and at the heels of everyone in red-and-white; he almost gets the most un-Barca goal of all time by running on to a through ball from Pique - but the keeper comes out smartly to head it away!
1' Williams causes the first flutter in the stomachs of Barca defenders by going on a rampage down the right and causing Umtiti all sorts of bother with an inswinging cross. Thankfully for the majority of the crowd, he can thump it forward
More of that BEST awards fracas, Luis Suarez apparently had decided not to attend the awards 'Gala' even before the other Barca players. He's unhappy with Fifa since they imposed sanctions on him. FOR BITING Luis, for BITING!
Inaki Williams is quite a player isn't he? His pace terrorised the Barca defence in San Mames, and he'll be looking to do the same at the Camp Nou "At San Mames we played a great game and we hope that the work we did bears fruit. We're really keen to face them because they are one of the best teams in the world. It would be great for us to get through this tie.''
Runs like the wind and speaks like a PR professional, a modern football club's dream that lad is.
Speaking further on the tough run out his players face, he said -
"We have to be very effective, very precise, and improve our percentage of getting out with the ball and beating their pressure,'' hesaid. The scoreline from the first leg makes for a very attractive game."
That is a true story, must say!
"We are going into the game a goal down, but the fact that we scored in the first leg has given us the confidence we need to get through the tie. If we score a goal, we will be ahead on aggregate and Athletic will have to take risks. It will be difficult because of the way Athletic play and what this match means to them.''
Do step forward, Senor Enrique - "In principle, the idea to go or not is individual. As their coach, I can only back their decision. There is a sporting situation that is more important. There are certain commitments the players must take into account. I back their decision 100 per cent."
Of course, he was talking about their super controversial decision NOT to attend the inaugural BEST FIFA Awards Ceremony at Zurich
Phew! Neutrals and Basques everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. Aduriz is at the Camp Nou - he's just on the bench for some reason. Here's the full bench - Elustondo, Muniain, Vesga, Susaeta, Mikel Rico, Aduriz, Unai Simón.
No major surprises for Barca, though - Enrique obviously confident that he shouldn't rotate out Cillessen just because this is a must win match. Good for you, Lucho. Meanwhile Rafinha Alcantara gets the nod ahead of the impressive Denis Suarez - he probably nudges him out due to the all important extra bit of big match experience
Masip, Vidal, Mathieu and Gomes have all been dropped from the squad to face Bilbao in little more than an hour... what is with Enrique and Vidal? He would be such a potent addition to the first XI... Sergi Roberto for all his great qualities is not half the fullback that the former Sevilla man is!
Neymar may not be in the best of form, but he does like playing against this particular opposition - He has scored 6 goals in 20 games this season but has scored 7 goals in 8 games against Athletic Bilbao
Barcelona are in dire need of a result. A loss to an inspired Bilbao in the first leg of this tie, a draw against a defiant Villarreal over the weekend and an unnecessarily created frisson with Real Madrid and FIFA over their non-attendance at one of their hallmark gala events has left the Catalans on the backfoot and in desperate need of a good result on the pitch to drive away the clouds of negativity hanging over the Camp Nou.
With Neymar and Luis Suarez doing nothing in front of goal, Luis Enrique has a massive issue on his hand. He needs this win, Barcelona need this win.
Athletic Bilbao, on the other hand, are punching above their weight - as it their wont - and you can be assured of one thing... Ernesto Valerde's men will give it their all. Ever since Marcelo Biesla first step foot in Basque country, that's just how they do it.
With so much on the line for Barcelona, expect a firecracker of a match that really should make up for the fact that it kicks off at an ungodly hour here in India.
Ivan Rakitic has been struggling with a number of niggly little injuries and that meant he was left out of the squad this weekend - conversely if certain reports are to be believed, the Croatian is miffed with the treatment he is receiving from the board, and there is a standoff in place. Either way, the Croatian is a huge miss (as he has been this whole season as he struggled with poor form). His box-to-box dynamism and attacking nous bring something a little different to the Barca plate... they have been all too predictable this season. Especially in the big games.
Luis Enrique has no other injury concern to worry about, but there are plenty of other problems to give him bother. The midfield roulette he is playing is one - none of Rakitic, Denis Suarez, and Rafinha have been able to nail down a starting place alongside Andres Iniesta and an unusually poor Sergio Busquets. But the biggest issue of them all is the misfiring form of Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr. The strike duo are unlikely to be dropped but they do need to score to justify their inclusion in the starting XI ahead of an on-fire Arda Turan.
Who are we kidding? Neither of them will ever be dropped will they? Like the popular saying goes "Form is temporary, Class on the other hand..."
The Basques have a major problem on their hands what with both Raul Garcia and Ander Irurraspe suspended for this leg after their sendings off at San Mames. This will mean Ernesto Valerde will have to bank on the depth of his squad - which has never been the best - but he will be confident of pulling off the upset here and will want his players to do things exactly the same way they did it last time around.
If it worked once, it sure as hell has a chance to work again.
The highly rated Laporte did magificently to shackle the might of the Barca front trio last time out, and while he can still do that Luis Suarez if he is on his A-game, stopping a pumped up Lionel Messi is a task that no defender will envy him for. The Argentine was the subject of ridicule and a lot of mocking after he and his mates missed the BEST FIFA Awards Ceremony - including from the winner of the Men's Award a certain Senor Cristiano Ronaldo - and while peer pressure has never really gotten to him in the past, not when he's at Barca, this one may just make him raise his game a notch or two. A mouth--watering prospect for everyone but the Basques.
The big man up top for Bilbao is quite a handful isn't he? The fiercely proud Basque will be up against a Catalan who takes just as much pride in his identity - and it should be a titanic encountered. If Aduriz comes out on top, odds are that the visitors will have the upper hand in the tie - just as they did in the first leg. Pique, on the other hand, will be hell bent to keep the attacker quiet and this clash may throw up a spark or two
Last time, the world - including us here at SK, thought that Neymar would rip apart the former Eibar right back to pieces. Nothing of the sort happened as the Basque stood tall against the Brazilian superstar. Neymar will now have a point to prove - he hasn't scored in 20 games, and he needs to prove that it has not gotten to his head. This matchup is going to be spicy
Barcelona and Bilbao share a grand old rivalry that has at it's a heart a unique thread that only people who feel they have been oppressed by a common entity can feel. Over the years the rivalry on the pitch has become more and more lopsided, and the recent record reflects that!
Copa del Rey 2016/17 : ATH 2 - FCB La Liga 2016/17 : ATH 0-1 FCB Copa del Rey 2015/16 : FCB 3-1 ATH Copa del Rey 2015/16 : ATH 1-2 FCB La Liga 2015/16 : FCB 6-0 ATH La Liga 2015/16 : ATH 0-1 FCB SuperCopa de Espanya 2015/16 : FCB 1-1 ATH SuperCopa de Espanya 2015/16 : ATH 4-0 FCB
Barcelona really don't like the winter break, do they? Having gone 4 wins on the trot just before the break came its merry way, they returned to action with a loss to Bilbao (in the first leg), and a draw against Villarreal that could have ended in favour of either side by the end of. Only Lionel Messi's magic rescued a point for La Blaugrana and with La Liga looking a mountain too high to climb (early days I know) they could really use a positive result here.
As for Bilbao, they too were in good form before Christmas and continued it in the Copa del Rey against today's opponents with an inspired performance. They then went on to do what Bilbao always do - follow up a great result with a what-the-hell kind of performance against Alaves that had about 4% of the oomph they showed against Barca.
Athletic Club pulled off the shock of the year (as young as 2017 is) when they were picked apart by a pumped up Basque outfit that went all out. Barca have no choice but do the same at their home ground, and with Messi & co. having many a point to prove, this should be a cracker.