La Liga

Barcelona 1 Athletic Bilbao 1: Messi and Munir combine to prevent another defeat 29 September 2018

Barcelona 1 Athletic Bilbao 1: Messi and Munir combine to prevent another defeat 29 September 2018

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi set up fellow substitute Munir El Haddadi to rescue a late 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao, but the reigning champions still dropped points for a third successive LaLiga game.

Ernesto Valverde seemingly had one eye on Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Tottenham considering his decision to leave Messi in reserve, but he came on to set up Munir’s late equaliser and at least prevent Barca losing a second consecutive match.

Although Barca played some neat football at times in the first half, Athletic posed the greater danger going forward and deservedly went ahead just before the interval through Oscar De Marcos.

Messi finally entered early in the second period and he – like Philippe Coutinho before him – struck the frame of the goal late on, before picking out fellow substitute Munir six minutes from time to secure a share of the spoils.

Athletic looked the bigger threat in the first half, with Inaki Williams sending a dipping half-volley just wide after racing in behind the defence to give Barca their first scare 12 minutes in.

Williams troubled again soon after, but he failed to apply the finish under pressure from Arturo Vidal after skipping past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Luis Suarez forced Unai Simon into a save from a tight angle in the 37th minute, but Athletic capitalised a few moments later – De Marcos steering Markel Susaeta’s cross in after escaping the attentions of Jordi Alba.

Valverde waited nine second-half minutes before introducing Messi and that seemed to boost Barca, with Coutinho striking the crossbar with a volley just past the hour.

Barca’s luck looked to have run out when Messi blasted against the post from 12 yards out 13 minutes from the end.

But their talisman kept plugging away and found Munir in the 84th minute with a low cross, the forward prodding past Simon to salvage a point.
All over at Camp Nou.
FC Barcelona 1-1 Athletic Club
Munir / De Marcos
#BarçaAthletic #ForçaBarça pic.twitter.com/LS0qzL1PG4

— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 29, 2018
What it means: Messi dependency is real

In theory, Barca had more than enough ability in their starting XI to deal with an Athletic side that has not won since their opening match of the season. Yet, before Messi’s introduction, the visitors were the more threatening in attack and deservedly had a 1-0 lead. Were it not for Williams’ occasionally suspect decision making, it could have been a more impressive half-time lead. Messi was the only one, alongside Suarez, who played with purpose and focus – Valverde should be concerned by that.

Simon deserving of a win

After losing Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea, it would have been normal for most to feel a little pessimistic about Athletic’s goalkeeping options, but in Simon they appear to have unearthed another fine talent. The 21-year-old made several good stops to keep Suarez at bay and looked commanding from set-pieces. He could do little about the late equaliser, but he was otherwise again impressive.

Rakitic lacking authority

Without leaders Messi and Sergio Busquets in the first half, Barca were crying out for someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck, but Ivan Rakitic failed to be that man. The Croatian’s final pass was routinely poor, while he offered little drive, with Coutinho often left without adequate support.

Key Opta facts

8 – @FcBarcelona are the team with the most hits on woodwork in LaLiga this season (eight, six of them from Lionel Messi). Break. pic.twitter.com/w5lhrt1wb3

— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 29, 2018
– Barcelona are winless in three LaLiga consecutive games for the first time since December 2016, when they drew three in a row.
– The last two goals scored by Munir in LaLiga were against Athletic. The last was in May 2018 for Alaves.
– Munir has scored for Barcelona for the first time in LaLiga since March 2016 against Getafe at Camp Nou.
– Susaeta has assisted two goals in the five games he has played in LaLiga in 2018-19, as many as the 34 games he played in LaLiga last season.
– Athletic’s boss Eduardo Berizzo has failed to win any of his eight managerial games against Ernesto Valverde in LaLiga.

What’s next?

After Wednesday’s trip to Spurs in the Champions League, Barca face another difficult test on Sunday at Valencia. Athletic have a Basque derby with rivals Real Sociedad to look forward to next Friday.

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