Barca beat Athletic to stay in title chase

Aritz Aduriz’s goal was cancelled out by Pedro and Lionel Messi as Barcelona came from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1.

The Blaugrana made four changes from the side that lost to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final, bringing in Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Adriano and Alex Song. Los Leones meanwhile, went with their own 4-3-3, spearheaded by the in-form Aduriz.

The Camp Nou outfit’s nightmare could have gone from bad to worse with a defeat here, as a loss to Ernesto Valverde’s men would almost certainly mean missing out on the title for this season.

But they started this match looking like a team whose confidence was in pieces – almost getting caught on the break inside five minutes. Marc Bartra though, did a better job against Iker Muniain than he did against Gareth Bale, sliding in for a crucial challenge.

The Catalans were, as has been the case this term, looking extremely susceptible at the back, and almost conceded the first goal soon after. A through ball from Ander Herrera found Aduriz, but the ex-Valencia man couldn’t beat Jose Pinto at his near post.

With the likes of Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi on the pitch though, the home side were always dangerous going forward. And it was the Argentine who set up their first real chance on 15 minutes. A pass from the Ballon d’Or winner found Pedro, but the Spain international’s effort hit Gorka Iraizoz in the midrift from close range.

The hosts were now imposing their usual style on to the game – keeping the ball and pressuring from all angles. And it almost got them a goal midway through the half, first from Messi and then from Adriano. Both times however, Iraizoz was on hand to save well and keep the score level.

On half an hour however, Martino’s side’s frailties were exposed once again, as Aduriz rattled the post. A cross from Susaeta found the striker, but his amazing overhead kick could only hit the upright.

The Camp Nou was stunned, but just moments later it was shocked. A breakaway from Barca saw Pedro close in on goal. The Masia graduate squared to Alexis, and from all of five yards out, the former Udinese man hit the bar with a first time shot.

After the break, it was Valverde’s side who came out of the blocks quickest, and soon punished the Catalans. Marc Bartra hesitated on the edge of his own area, and watched as Muniain skipped in on goal. Aduriz took up the ball however, and curled a shot past Pinto to break the deadlock.

Things were looking bleak for Barca. Not since 2000 had they lost four games in a row. And their complete lack of confidence was personified in Messi. The Argentine forward was played through on the hour mark for a fairly simple one-on-one, but where he’d normally lift it over the goalkeeper, this time, the record-breaking forward slotted a shot wide.

Their lead didn’t last long though, as mounting Blaugrana pressure eventually told. A cross from Dani Alves found Alexis on the edge of the area, and his scuffed shot went into the path of Pedro, who tapped in for the equaliser from close range.

The mood inside the stadium quickly changed, and the home team made the most of that optimism soon after, completing an unlikely turnaround. A foul from Mikel San Jose on Messi resulted in a free kick, and the Argentina international picked himself up and powered an effort past the goalkeeper.

Barcelona 2-1 Athletic Bilbao

Scorers: Pedro 72 (B), Messi 75 (B); Aduriz 50 (AB)

Barcelona: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi (Cesc 70), Song, Iniesta; Alexis (Tello 87), Messi, Pedro

Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; De Marcos, San José, Laporte, Balenziaga; Iturraspe (Benat 83), Erik Moran (Mikel Rico 64), Herrera; Susaeta, Aduriz, Muniain