Home sweet home. Such was the feeling before facing Athletic Club at the Camp Nou for Barcelona. The players were eager to win at home after seven away wins in a row. However, none were more eager than Lionel Messi.
The diminutive forward turned the first half into a recital. He started early with a terrific run that Antoine Griezmann spotted. Unai Simón was too good and kept the scoresheet blank. Messi then found the Frenchman in acres of space, but Griezmann could not finish. Messi then tried to score with his chest after connecting with a Miralem Pjanic shot. The best moment of the game came on the 20-minute mark. Messi got a free-kick from afar. Despite all the adversity, and the tactics to keep the ball out of the goal, the captain found the top corner and opened the scoring.
Barcelona were imperial, but no one was as imperial as Messi. Samuel Umtiti, who benched Clément Lenglet had a stellar game. The Frenchman is finding his feet after years of ordeal. Umtiti’s passing accompanied by his great last-ditch tackles made him the best defender on the pitch bar none.
If that is the level Barça want to show until the end of the season, then it is excellent. The hosts kept Athletic at bay and won the first half.
The second half could not have started in a worse way. Athletic got a leveller straight after the kick-off. Raúl García got past Oscar Mingueza and sent in a beautiful cross towards Oscar de Marcos. Jordi Alba helped the ball on its way towards the goal and Barça had to do it all.
Ousmane Dembélé decided to take it upon himself to get his side back in front. The Frenchman thought he had won a penalty when Iker Muniain assaulted him in the box. Mateu Lahoz decided it was not a penalty. The Frenchman then sent a through ball to Mingueza, who sent the ball across the face of the goal towards Griezmann. The World Cup winner scored his third goal in two games against Athletic and won the game.
Overall, Barça played really well. They annihilated Athletic for most of the game and deserved to win. In the end, Marcelino’s first two league defeats came against Koeman’s Barça who now leapfrog Real Madrid after five league wins in a row.