Luis Suarez, Neymar team up as Barcelona punish Athletic Bilbao
Barcelona destroyed Athletic Bilbao 6-0 at the Camp Nou in round 20 of La Liga. Luis Suarez had a hat trick, while Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ivan Rakitic added goals for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed a massive 77 percent of possession, created 20 goal-scoring chances and attempted 18 shots, eight of them on target.
Without a doubt, the straight red card that visiting goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was shown only three minutes after the initial whistle unbalanced the game in the Blaugrana's favour. While the Basque players were both shocked and disappointed by the referee's decision, Iraizoz's careless tackle on Suarez clearly stopped him from scoring the opener and, with that in mind, sending him off was fair.
From that point onward, the 10-men visitors were left with an impossible mountain to climb. Athletic became increasingly tired and were largely unable to keep up with the dynamic passing game that the hosts displayed.
Inevitably, the game was only going to have one outcome and Barca's absolute dominance of midfield and ultra-effective attacking frontline ensured that the three points remained in Catalunya.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Claudio Bravo, 7 -- The Chilean goalkeeper, who has not conceded in La Liga since Dec. 12, delivered another confident performance between the posts, despite being challenged in the early stages.
DF Aleix Vidal, 8 -- Encouragingly, the Catalan is getting quickly accustomed to the demands of a right-back at Barca. His desire, stamina and ability to combine even when under pressure prove that signing him from Sevilla was certainly the right decision.
DF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- The Argentinean was disciplined both on and off the ball, always keeping an eye of the Basque strikers. Definitely benefitted from the visitors' decision to substitute Iker Muniain following Iraizoz's early sending off.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- After inexplicably losing the ball inside his own area in the early stages, went on to deliver a solid defensive performance.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- Eager to get involved at both ends of the pitch, making the most of any spaces left uncovered. Disappointingly, limped off the pitch after 71 minutes with clear discomfort in his hamstring.
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MF Sergio Busquets, 9 -- Another commanding performance from Barca's silent leader. After impeccable displays of this sort, it is truly impossible to understand why the Catalan continues to be overlooked when it comes to individual awards.
MF Andres Iniesta, 9 -- His magical touch, privileged vision and spectacular dribbles ensured that the hosts piled up constant pressure in their attacking third. Made the most out of the eventual spaces that the 10-men visitors were unable to cover.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- Despite missing a clear chance to score the goal of the season early on, went on to redeem himself with a confident tap-in to score the Catalans' fourth.
FW Neymar, 10 -- The gifted Brazilian had averaged one goal at home in all competitions this season heading into Sunday, and as it was to be expected, he delivered in front of the Camp Nou faithful once again. Scored Barca's second by finishing a counterattack with a clever flick, then went on to assist Suarez for the third and Rakitic for the fourth. Undoubtedly, a future Ballon d'Or winner in the making.
FW Luis Suarez, 10 -- A masterclass from the Uruguayan striker. Faultless in front of goal, generous when needed and combative enough to cause his markers endless trouble. Forced the penalty that led to Messi's opener, chasing after a ball that most forwards would have considered lost. Released the ball at the right time to provide Neymar for Barca's second. Delivered a traditionally clinical finish to score his second, then a world-class move to complete a memorable hat-trick.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 -- The five-times Ballon d'Or winner shared his latest individual award with the crowd before kickoff and scored from the penalty spot shortly after. From that point on, the No. 10's evening went downhill, unfortunately, and ended up being substituted at half-time with muscular discomfort. Cules around the world are already crossing their fingers in the hope of good news on Monday, especially looking at the difficult schedule ahead in coming weeks.
FW Arda Turan, 7 -- Introduced for Messi at half-time, the Turkish international contributed with purposeful passes from the right wing.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- Substituted Rakitic after 62 minutes. Moved back to left-back after Alba's injury and, despite been deployed in an unusual position, did not disappoint.
DF Marc Bartra, NR -- Replaced Alba with 19 minutes to go, helping Barca see off a game that had already been won.