Barcelona ruthlessly demolished Athletic Club 6-0 on Sunday at the Camp Nou to move within two points of La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid with a game in hand to play.
Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was sent off in just the third minute of the match to pave the way for a completely one-sided match, with Messi, Neymar and Ivan Rakitic all finding the net before Suarez completed an impressive hat-trick.
Here in this article, we tried to pick out the winners and losers from an eventful Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao La Liga fixture.
Winner: Luis Suarez
There were definitely many more pivotal or individually important performances last night at Camp Nou than Luis Suarez’s, but the lethal striker’s three-goal show clearly suggests, it is impossible to leave him out when discussing the winners.
Hat-tricks are always treasured, regardless of how they come into the light, and despite Suarez’s latest one coming against an exhausted, beleaguered 10-man Athletic Bilbao, the Uruguay striker deserves plenty of praise. All of the finishes he displayed were inch-perfect and calm. Not only that, he also assisted Neymar’s first goal and managed to win the penalty which Lionel Messi converted clinically to open the scoring in a highly tempered La Liga fixture.
According to stats from Opta, Suarez’s three-goal haul indicates he is averaging one goal per match in La Liga (18 in 18) so far, an absolutely extraordinary feat, along with six assists.
Loser: Javier Eraso
Ahead of this tough fixture, Athletic Club were left with serious injury concerns and suspensions that forced them to make five changes to the starting eleven. One of the key men to make it to the starting line-up was Javier Eraso; he was handed over a pivotal attacking duty in the absence of injured Raul Garcia but missed two major chances when he was needed the most.
It’s a fact that the Los Leones had a slight chance of keeping up with a fearsome Barcelona squad which was actually superior not just in quality, but in numbers too. But, utilising chances at key moments can change the course of matches even against a superior team.
Eraso missed two goals. The first one was in the second minute when the score was 0-0 following Gerard Pique’s horrible back pass. The other miss came later on after perfectly setting himself one-on-one from six yards. As a result, at the end of the day, nothing could save Athletic.
Winner: Aleix Vidal
After a demolishing Barcelona performance including six goals and 70 per cent possession (according to WhoScored.com), there is definitely plenty of good performers. But few in the match-day squad have as much eagerness to show their credibility as Aleix Vidal.
The former Sevilla man, after so much drama registered as a Barcelona player, was given the chance to start instead of Dani Alves. He went on to impress greatly, running forward continuously with confidence, picking out some amazing passes and troubling Bilbao goalkeeper Iago Herrerin on a few occasions.
Alves, being a veteran member of the team has actually enjoyed an undisputed hold over the right-back position for several years, but Aleix Vidal is now a serious contender for the position. It’s a mere possibility to see him usurp the Brazilian defender so quickly, but the new inclusion to Enrique’s brigade has already started to push for a regular role in this squad.
Loser: Xabier Etxeita
Xabier Etxeita is an effective player for sure and has already formed a good partnership with Athletic Club’s another starlet Aymeric Laporte, but if anybody watching him for the first time on Sunday night’s game, he/she might assume Etxeita as one of the worst defenders playing in La Liga.
He was running clueless at the Camp Nou, continually losing his markers, and even directly involved in most of the Catalan’s six goals in a negative way or another. He should have been sent off after he elbowed Luis Suarez in the face, an incident the referee surprisingly failed to see.
Etxeita set the chain off by losing out to Barcelona’s hat-trickman in the build-up to the penalty and completely ousted by losing the Uruguayan in the box for his third headed attempt.
Winner: Ivan Rakitic
This was arguably Ivan Rakitic’s best performance this season. He was running the show in the middle of the pitch, made some eye-catching solo runs and eventually topped things off with a well-finished goal.
Aleix Vidal’s cutting passes often found his boot as the playmaker was frequently breaking between the lines and breaching the box. He displayed a few brilliant touches setting up some shooting opportunities, floated an inch-perfect cross in for Neymar to sky early and pushed the ball between Iago Herrerin’s legs only after the hour mark to make the scoreline 4-0.
With a young talent like Sergi Roberto recently emerging as a consistent option in the midfield and Arda Turan’s potentiality to play inside, Rakitic is feeling the pressure to perform, for sure. These sorts of performances guide players to keep their places in a crowded, competitive midfield like Barcelona have.
Loser: Gorka Iraizoz
Gorka Iraizoz received an unnecessary red card and gave away a penalty on the third minute of the match against Barcelona last night. Game plan devastated under pressure, 1-0 down early and fighting with 10 men for the next 87 minutes, manager Ernesto Valverde had all the rights to feel pretty damn annoyed.
It was an irresponsible act from Iraizoz, leaving his line despite seeing Luis Suarez had slipped in behind Xabier Etxeita and then fouling him more than 15 yards from goal. With no defender to cover (only Neymar lurking,) a red card was definitely the right call and Substitute Iago Herrerin’s first action of the match was to concede a penalty helplessly.
Even with 11 men standing in front of Barcelona, this was going to be the toughest mission for Los Leones, but managing a goal deficit with one less man for 87 long minutes? No chance to survive.
With sincere apologies to the extraordinary Andres Iniesta, who was a strong contender for our final winner slot, we had to include a clinical Neymar, as the Brazilian destroyed Athletic Bilbao’s right side throughout the match.
He must have believed that he can snatch the 2016 Ballon d’Or and accordingly has begun proving it in a right way – taking apart opponent full-backs and showing some mesmerising tricks and flicks to set up chances every now and then.
Neymar’s incredible assist for Ivan Rakitic’s goal left everyone watching the match simply speechless. He first left one marker in his dust, then jinked past the other one in the box and pulled the ball back for his Croatian teammate to slot home calmly.
In this sort of blistering form, Neymar has become irresistible, and poor old Eneko Boveda had no chance to restrict him.