Barcelona kept their 100 per cent La Liga record intact with hard-fought 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, thanks to a brace from substitute Neymar.
Luis Enrique’s men dominated for large portions of the match, and were fully deserving of all three points and could’ve scored more, were it not for the heroics of Gorka Iraizoz in the Athletic Bilbao goal. He was worked hard by a talented Barcelona front line, which again featured rising star Munir El Haddadi.
But it was his opposite number Claudio Bravo who needed to be on his toes to stop an effort from Benat just a minute into proceedings.
It was then Iraizoz’s turn to keep out the opposition, keeping out an early effort from Pedro after pretty football from the hosts.
The keeper did his job in shot-stopping superbly, but the 33-year-old was lucky not to concede a penalty after half an hour. The keeper clattered through the back of Munir in an attempt to gather the ball, but referee David Fernandez gave the decision against the Barcelona forward.
Barca had two late efforts to find a goal before the break, both foiled by the man between the Bilbao goal, who stopped shots from Rakitic and Munir.
For all of Barcelona’s possession, pressing and shots, the score remained level after 45 minutes. The second half continued very much in the same vain as the first: Barca pressed, Bilbao defended, often relying on the pace of Muniain and Susaeta on the counter attack.
Again Munir fell victim to the ruling of the officials, as his effort, which beat Iraizoz, was deemed offside. Closer reflection showed that the young forward appeared to be level with the ball when the cross was dispatched.
Messi jinked in side, and fed Jordi Alba, who had bombed on from full-back, and fired a right-foot shot which again required the palms of Iraizoz to keep it out.
A beautiful exhibitions of flowing pass and move football put Barcelona in many dangerous positions, however flying, last ditch challenges and blocks from the Athletic defenders time and again stopped Barcelona breaking the deadlock.
In an attempt to provide for attacking impetus, Neymar emerged from the bench - and it worked wonders.
It had been a herculean effort keeping out the home side, but Athletic could only hold out until the 78th minute before they sprung a leak, giving the substitute Neymar the opportunity to bag his first of the season. The Brazilian was fed by Lionel Messi, and one-on-one with the keeper, he showed the type of clinical finishing not displayed by anyone in a Barcelona shirt thus far.
Five minutes later, they had their second. Again Messi was the provider, and the Argentine’s magical abilities were on show. He picked the ball up on the right-hand side, drove past two Bilbao players and cut the ball back to Neymar, who again showed a lethal touch bagging his second.
As he inches closer to full fitness, having the option of bringing on the Brazilian from the bench must put the mind of Luis Enrique at ease. Moreover, the combination football between him and Messi looks promising; after signs last season that the two were unable to play successfully in the same side.
Barcelona: Bravo; Montoya, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Munir.
Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Gurpegi, Laporte, Balenziaga; Mikel Rico, Iturraspe; Susaeta, Benat, Muniain; Aduriz.
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