Barcelona scraped through to secure a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames to join Las Palmas and arch-rivals Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga table. The Blaugrana had Ivan Rakitic’s 21st-minute header to thank for the win as it also helped manager Luis Enrique record his 100th win in charge of the Camp Nou outfit.
In a rainy night and under difficult conditions Barcelona held on to their slender one-goal advantage to secure their second win of the season, making it six wins out of six in league encounters against The Rojiblancos. The defeat leaves the basque outfit without a point after two games into the La Liga campaign, having already suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Sporting Gijon in their opening game of the season.
Here are the major talking points from Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao:
#1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen has a long way to go to fill in Claudio Bravo’s big shoes
The German international didn’t concede in his first league outing of the season, but the clean sheet didn’t come without its own share of hiccups. In the first half, Ter Stegen gifted the ball to Benat and Ernesto Valverde’s men almost took the lead if not for an excellent save by the German shot-stopper.
While Ter Stegen did make a few good blocks as the game progressed, his lapse almost cost Barcelona and the 24-year-old will have to pick up his game if he wants to continue as Luis Enrique’s first choice goalkeeper as the season progresses.
Claudio Bravo, who recently signed for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, had better ball distribution and showed more composure in pressure situations and Ter Stegen will have to learn a thing or two from his former teammate if he wants to keep new signing Jasper Cillessen away from the starting line-up.
The clean sheet, however, should help Ter Stegen put the ghosts of last season’s 4-0 drubbing at the hand of Bilbao in the Spanish Supercup to bed.
#2 If it were any other team, Athletic Bilbao would have scored
Ernesto Valverde’s side may have lost the match, but they deserved to get a point from the game if not more. The Basque outfit kept Barcelona on their toes courtesy of their high-pressing game and went close to scoring on a number of occasions only to be denied by either some excellent defending by the Catalans or poor finishing by their attackers.
The San Mames outfit were also denied a late penalty appeal after Iker Munian went down inside the box at the end of regulation time under slight contact from Rakitic, but the referee didn’t award the penalty probably due to the over-dramatization by the attacker.
Simply put, if it were any other team apart from Barcelona, Bilbao would have scored at least one goal.
While Bilbao have failed to secure a point so far in the season, the signs were encouraging in the narrow defeat and Valverde should motivate his side to build up on this display.
#3 Arda Turan continues his impressive form
Arda Turan has started the season in blistering form and had already registered three goals and an assist ahead of tonight’s game. The Turkish midfielder set up Rakitic’s opener with a pinpoint cross and was a constant threat on the left wing, but squandered a golden opportunity to double his side’s lead at the stroke of half-time.
Turan has put a dismal last season behind him, which saw him linked with a move away from Camp Nou and has shone in the absence of Neymar finding himself pulling the strings of the Balugrana’s attack alongside Lionel Messi.
Turan’s form is set to give Luis Enrique a massive headache as Neymar will be returning to the starting line-up fold after the international break and the Spaniard will have to figure out a way to get the best out of both Turan and Neymar, probably at the expense of someone else. Because at the moment, Turan looks undroppable.
#4 Barcelona’s attack does not have the same swag without Neymar
While Barcelona have been recording comprehensive victories in the new season so far, last night’s tough encounter highlighted the absence of Neymar from the starting line-up. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are capable of turning any game on its head with their flair and trickery but it is only better when you have the complete ‘MSN’ at your disposal and Luis Enrique found this out last night.
While Arda Turan slotted in on instead of Neymar and had an excellent game as mentioned above, he does not possess the same goal-scoring threat as the Brazilian.
The Catalan giants were guilty of squandering a couple of good chances during the game and had the result not gone in their favour, they would have rued the absence of Neymar, who will be available for selection after the international break – having helped Brazil lift their maiden Olympic gold medal in the recently concluded Rio Games.
#5 Is it a two-horse race for the La Liga title this season?
Barcelona and Real Madrid have both enjoyed perfect starts to their campaigns, winning both of their league games so far. However, the same cannot be said about 2013/14 La Liga winners and the only other team in the Spanish league capable of challenging the duopoly of these clubs – Atletico Madrid.
Diego Simeone’s side have struggled to hit the ground running and have drawn their opening two games against newly promoted sides Alaves and Leganes. While two games is not a big enough sample size to rule a team of Atleti’s calibre out of the reckoning for the La Liga title, we are talking about a league where the last three titles have been decided by the difference of one, two and three points respectively.
Simeone will be hoping to regroup his side after the international break and start on the right note, for if he fails this season will again turn out to be another boring one for the neutrals with the two richest clubs competing for top honours.