Barcelona 3-0 Athletic Bilbao: Lionel Messi and co close gap on Real Madrid
By Paul Green
Last Updated: 04/02/17 6:46pm
Barcelona closed the gap on La Liga leaders Real Madrid to just one point thanks to a 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou.
Paco Alcacer, Lionel Messi and Aleix Vidal were all on target as Luis Enrique's side sealed what was eventually a comfortable win, but they had to survive a few early scares along the way.
Raul Garcia's third minute shot was just tipped onto the post by the faintest of touches from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, while the unmarked Inaki Williams should have done better with a 12th minute header which flew just wide.
Bilbao paid the price for that wastefulness five minutes later as Barcelona broke the deadlock, Neymar showing a great burst of pace inside the box before cleverly pulling the ball back for Alcacer to tap home.
Bilbao were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position midway through the first half, only for Ander Iturraspe to blaze over.
Williams was proving a real handful and should have restored parity with a 32nd minute effort which was saved by Ter Stegen, while Mikel Balenziaga's 50-yard free-kick had the Barca keeper back peddling to deal with.
But it was the hosts who doubled their advantage five minutes before the break in a moment which Gorka Iraizoz will quickly want to forget.
Barcelona were awarded a free-kick wide on the right and Messi caught out the Bilbao keeper, who flapped the ball at his near post as it flew past him into the far corner.
That took Messi joint top of the La Liga scoring charts on 16 goals with team-mate Luis Suarez, an unused substitute today, and three clear of nearest challenger Cristiano Ronaldo.
Rafinha came agonisingly close to heading in a third early in the second half shortly before accidentally colliding with his own keeper at the other end and leaving the field with blood pouring from his face to be replaced by Ivan Rakitic.
Barcelona were now in firm control, Neymar firing over and Messi hitting the side-netting after being gifted the chance by some woeful Bilbao defending.
The outcome was put beyond any doubt on 67 minutes by Vidal, who beat two defenders before surging into the area and drilling a low shot beyond Iraizoz.
Substitute Javier Eraso almost grabbed a 79th minute consolation with an attempt he dragged inches wide.
However, Barcelona continued to press and could easily made it 4-0 in the final minute had Rakitic not blazed wildly over after Vidal's initial was saved.
They now sit second in the table trailing Madrid by a solitary point, although their rivals have two games in hand.