Barcelona took control of their Copa del Rey quarter-final with a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, despite Artiz Aduriz’s late consolation.
Jordi Alba’s injury, coupled with a refusal to risk Lionel Messi’s fitness and the final game of Luis Suarez’s ban, paved the way for Sergi Roberto’s inclusion at left-back and Arda Turan and Munir El Haddadi flanking Neymar in attack.
Athletic, on the other hand, dropped goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz for his early red card in the 6-0 defeat to Barca at the weekend, along with Mikel San Jose, while Inaki Williams moved out to the left in order to accommodate the returning Aduriz.
A bright start from Athletic failed to catch fire, therefore giving Barca 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.
Not long later, the Catalans doubled their lead, Neymar – a constant thorn down the left wing – capitalising on Inigo Lekue’s failure to read Sergi Roberto’s through pass and Herrerin’s reckless dive as he simply rounded the custodian and tapped his finish into an empty net.
More of the same followed in the second half, with Barca happily placing faith in their ability to break up Athletic’s attacks – a tactic which saw the visitors create very little for the remainder of the match but succeeded in frustrating Los Leones, who looked devoid of ideas.
However, with only a minute spare, Alves’ shocking clearance in the box and poor anticipating from Javier Mascherano – arguably the man of the match in the Basque Country – allowed Aduriz to continue his hot streak against Barca with an assured finish.
Substitute Sabin Merino then could have completed a shock turnaround in the dying embers of the match, but his deflected drive was instinctively palmed over the bar by Ter Stegen ahead of next week’s return leg at Camp Nou.
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Barcelona
Munir 18, Neymar 24
Athletic Bilbao: Herrerin; De Marcos, Lekue, Etxeita, Laporte; Iturraspe, Benat (San Jose 68); Susaeta (Muniain 56), Eraso (Sabin 62) Williams; Aduriz
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Sergi (Adriano 74); Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Arda (Vidal 66), Munir (Sandro 80), Neymar
Referee: Gonzalez Gonzalez