Football

Barcelona vs Athletic Club: Three things we learned

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Barcelona didn't quite succumb to Athletic Club de Bilbao in the second leg of their Spanish Super Cup final, but they had given themselves far too much to do to turn around a four-goal first leg deficit.

In the end, the visitors were well worth the win, a victory which handed them their first title in 31 years. And boy did they celebrate.

Barca's cause was as good as lost once Gerard Pique abused the linesman in the second half, earning a straight red for his troubles.

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Let's take a look at three other things which we learned from the match...

Marked man Messi

Although he scored last night, Lionel Messi was kept in check for the second time in four days by a magnificent Bilbao defence.

Conscious of what he did to them in the Spanish Cup final at the end of last season, Ernesto Valverde sought to limit the Argentine's influence completely, sometimes stationing three players on him at any one time.

Such a way of playing wasn't without risk, but with a four-goal cushion to fall back on, the manager obviously thought it was a risk worth taking.

It worked handsomely too. Rarely over the course of the 90 minutes could Messi build up anything like a head of steam.

Passes were in short supply and he had to resort to feeding on scraps. How often do we say that about Barca's number 10?!

No case for the defence - again

Gerard Pique's expulsion, which by conservative estimates could see him serving a four-game ban, only served to exacerbate the lack of depth that Barcelona have in their defence right now.

Javier Mascherano can once again hold his head high, but Jeremy Mathieu's performance was lamentable once again.

His "clearance" which led to the goal that killed off any hopes of a Barca recovery was as bad as anything you will see on a Sunday league football pitch.

Teams are not frightened of putting pressure on the Catalans now and the creaking back line isn't up to the challenge. 

In only one game throughout the pre-season have Barcelona managed to keep a clean sheet.

With out of form Marc Bartra or Thomas Vermaelen the only players realistically available to cover for Pique's absence, Luis Enrique has problems.

Lack of penetration

Neymar's continued absence really highlights his worth to the team, if that has ever been in doubt over the last 12 months.

Both Pedro and Munir were unable to unpick the lock down the left channel with the covering defenders easily able to cover and track the runs of the attackers on that side of the pitch.

Both players were hard-working but not sharp or incisive enough at any point.

If the Brazilian is missing again for the league game, Barca's lack of penetration could cost them dearly again.

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Topics:
Football
La Liga
Athletic Bilbao
Lionel Messi
Barcelona
Luis Suarez

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