Barcelona, Jun 23 (efe-epa).- A goal by Ivan Rakitic in the 71st minute, with an assist by Messi, gave the 1-0 win to Barcelona in its match against Athletic Club at Camp Nou before empty stands on Tuesday, thus keeping the Catalonian team in the running for the La Liga title and putting it back on top in the rankings, albeit the result of the Real Madrid-Mallorca match on Wednesday may upset things again.
Despite the victory, Barca did not perform well, looking listless, lacking spirit and drive.
The Bilbao team looked substantially better on the pitch, having beaten Barca twice already this season at San Mames stadium – in La Liga and in Copa action – and having come to consider downing the Catalans as the “new normal,” until Tuesday night, that is.
Although Lionel Messi was in the spotlight as he looked (in vain) for his 700th career goal during the match, it was Rakitic who snatched the win from the jaws of what looked like a scoreless draw, thus putting Barca up over Real Madrid, for the moment, by three points.
Barcelona had battled Sevilla to a 0-0 result last Friday and were off their normal form once again, with Messi doing not much of anything until he contributed an assist for Rakitic’s tally. He did, however, manage to crank up the excitement in the last few minutes, speeding in from the right to try for a shot into the corner, one of his signature moves, although on this occasion the powerful blast went wide.
Barca goaltender Marc-Andre Ter Stegen had a rather tough night, almost losing control early on to Unai Lopez’s crossing attempt, but he had further problems later in the first period when Yeray sent a header toward the twine only to have it slip over the bar. And yet, a win is a win.
Luis Suarez, who had also been rather lackluster throughout the match, finally managed to send a blast netward, although it was deflected.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets (Rakitic, min.65), Arthur (Riqui Puig, min.56), Arturo Vidal; Messi, Griezmann (Ansu Fati, min.65) and Luis Suarez (Braithwaite, min.85).
Athletic Club: Unai Simon; De Marcos, Nuñez, Yeray, Balenziaga: Unai Lopez (Dani Garcia, min.57), Vesga; Lekue (Capa, min.69), Ohian Sancet, Cordoba (Muniain, min.57); and Williams (Villalibre, min.69).
Goals: 1-0: Rakitic, min.71.
Referee: Gil Manzano; showed yellow cards to Sergio Busquets (min.32), Nuñez (min.61) and Rakitic (min.91).