Barca led by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, midfield in Copa del Rey win vs. Bilbao
A goalkeeping master class from Marc-Andre ter Stegen ensured Barcelona held on to a 2-1 win over Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey. The German showed brilliant reflexes to deny a string of shots in the dying minutes of Wednesday night's clash at San Mames, capping off a night in which he even dominated the opposition strikers in the air.
In a contest that was fierce from start to finish, Sergio Busquets delivered an equally important performance for the Catalans, repeatedly winning back possession and going toe to toe with the Basques in the game's more physically demanding moments.
Yet it wasn't all positive: the night ended on a less happy note for Dani Alves. With little time left on the clock Barca were heading for a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Munir and Neymar, only for the right-back to all but single-handedly cut their lead in half when he gifted the ball to Mikel San Jose. It gave Artiz Aduriz a huge chance he didn't waste and a lifeline of a goal that keeps Athletic in the tie heading back to the Camp Nou for the second leg.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, 8 -- During the game's most difficult moments, the German was the difference between a win and a draw. Sharp off his line, he was particularly important in the air, producing a mixture of punches, catches and acrobatic leaps to deny Athletic. A brilliant individual performance.
DF Dani Alves, 5 -- For the majority of the night, the right-back did a decent defensive job, closing down Markel Susaeta for what would have been a simple chance in the Barca box and making a similar intervention at the start of the second half. Lapses in concentration were also present however -- the biggest of which led to Aduriz's late goal. An inexcusable individual error for a player of his experience.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Imperious in the air against an Athletic side that have several excellent headers of the ball, the defender took a few blows for his efforts too. Not given an easy night but largely coped well.
DF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- Vital in helping to provide a clean build-up from the back as Athletic looked to force Barca's defenders into mistakes in the first half. In the second he was more important off the ball, making several smart tactical fouls that killed some of Athletic's best attempts to counterattack.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- Placed in a direct contest with Inaki Williams on his weaker left side, the versatile academy product coped incredibly well, rarely coming off second best. The first time he surged forward, he produced a pass inside that broke off Xabier Etxeita into Neymar's path for the second goal. Taken off for Adriano in the 73rd minute after a job well done.
MF Sergio Busquets, 8 -- All over the pitch putting out fires, the midfielder was vital in a defensive capacity in a rough game, winning fouls to relieve pressure and committing a few of his own when required. Simply irreplaceable.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- The Croatian's standout moment came when he produced a run worthy of a winger and a cross to match that created Barca's opener but he was also bulled by Athletic, contributing to his team's lack of control at the game wore on.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- A smarter game than his midfield counterparts, the veteran dropped deep and offered constantly for possession when Athletic were trying to fight their way back into the tie. On top of that, he worked hard to protect the out-of-position Sergi Roberto as a true captain should.
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FW Munir El Haddadi, 6 -- Struggled with Athletic's physical game early on but didn't shirk the challenge, eventually delivering a vital goal in the 18th minute that changed the momentum. While he didn't receive the same kind of service thereafter, the youngster nonetheless kept running until being subbed for Sandro in the 79th minute.
FW Neymar, 7 -- Had barely featured in the opening stages when in the 24th minute, he burst into the Athletic box at full speed and quickly adjusted to an Iago Herrerin error to slot into an empty net. Didn't touch the ball as often as usual but when he did, it tended to be followed with a jaw-dropping dribble or trick. Could perhaps have done more to help Barca slow things down later in the game.
FW Arda Turan, 6 -- Made a huge clearance in the ninth minute when the ball broke in the path of two unmarked Athletic players from a corner, and then stepped up to produce another important intervention 10 minutes later when he held onto a Rakitic pass just long enough for the Croatian to burst down the line. Yet his influence lessened as the game progressed and he was withdrawn for Aleix Vidal in the 65th minute.
FW Aleix Vidal, 5 -- On for Arda as Luis Enrique looked to provide some pace off the shoulder, the Catalan drew several fouls.
DF Adriano, N/A -- On for Sergi Roberto to give the younger player some rest late in the game.
FW Sandro Ramirez, N/A -- Made a brief cameo in place of Munir with just over 10 minutes left.
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter @LeeRoden89.