Barcelona cruised to a 4-0 win at home to Athletic Club on Sunday night,
securing impressive back-to-back wins following El Clasico disappointment.
Ousmane Dembele put Athletic to the sword from the off and headed Barcelona in front,
before turning provider for Sergi Roberto to double the lead. Robert Lewandowski got in on the act for the hosts, who were in complete control and eased their way into half-time with the game essentially won already.
Watch Barcelona four goals today!!
With the hard yards already ran,
Xavi’s side dropped the tempo somewhat in the second half and played the game at a canter. Athletic failed to capitalise on that despite winning back some possession,
with Barcelona constantly looking in control and Ferran Torres putting the seal on proceedings late on.
After a strong showing against Villarreal in the midweek,
it was unusual to see Xavi set Barcelona up in a tweaked,
4-2-3-1 shape that made use of four midfielders.
The change paid dividends, though,
with his side dominating the ball from the first whistle and pulling ahead after just 12 minutes of play.
Dembele forced a fine save from Unai Simon with a curled effort from the edge of the box. Robert Lewandowski was there to scoop up the rebound,
though, before placing a well-weighted cross onto Dembele’s head,
who took his second chance with ease.
Conceding an early goal quickly turned into a nightmare opening 20 minutes for the visitors. Sergi Roberto doubled Barcelona’s lead shortly after going ahead,
playing a smart passing exchange with Dembele before bursting into the box and finding the bottom corner. Moments later, Ander Herrera limped off injured,
leaving an already shell-shocked Athletic completely helpless.
And before long,
they were 3-0 down. Lewandowski turned Oscar de Marcos inside out in the penalty area, before rifling past Simon. La Blaugrana were in complete control,
with Ernesto Valverde’s side still seemingly on the team bus and showing no signs of coming off it anytime soon.
Unfortunately for Barcelona,
a flawless first half was marred by Gavi being forced off injured following a clash with Dani Garcia. That substitution saw them take their foot off the gas somewhat,
but Athletic were unable to find a way back into the game before half-time.
Having already done the heavy lifting early on,
Barcelona enjoyed themselves after the break.
Passes were sprayed around effortlessly and they continued to cut through Athletic,
with Pedri hitting the post and coming agonisingly close to making it 4-0 following a brilliant cross from Roberto.
Ansu Fati’s presence off the substitutes bench was almost immediately felt. Picking up the ball following a confident run forward from Frenkie de Jong,
the 19-year-old stood up his marker and bent the ball inches over the bar.
Just as Athletic came close to a consolation through a well delivered free-kick and a brief defensive lapse from Barcelona,
the hosts broke forward ruthlessly and added another. Dembele burst through to pick out Torres,
who swivelled into space and coolly tucked the ball beneath the goalkeeper.
But just as Gavi’s injury soured Barcelona’s first half,
an injury to Roberto did the same in the closing stages. An awkward landing for the Spaniard saw him leave the field clutching his shoulder in serious discomfort, forcing the hosts to see out proceedings with ten players.
Still though, confidence has been rebuilt, following the damage done in losses to Inter and Real Madrid. Barcelona will need much more than confidence, though, when they welcome Bayern Munich to the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
A fine display from Ousmane Dembele inspired Barcelona to a convincing win over Athletic Bilbao, but it came at the cost of an injury to Gavi.
Gavi, who won the Golden Boy award for the best young talent in European football last week, crumpled to the ground holding his groin in the first half.