Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao: Paco Alcacer and Lionel Messi keep Ernesto Valverde's side on course for 25th La Liga title
By Oliver Yew
Last Updated: 19/03/18 6:15am
Barcelona stayed on course for a 25th La Liga title thanks to a 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Nou Camp on Sunday.
The Catalan giants were in scintillating form in the first half as strikes from Paco Alcacer, who started in place of the suspended Luis Suarez, and Lionel Messi handed them the advantage at the interval.
However, Barca eased off the gas to put in a lacklustre second-half performance but they were rarely troubled as Ernesto Valverde secured a win over his former side.
Victory moved Barcelona, who stretched their unbeaten run to 35 games in the league, 11 points clear with nine games to play after Atletico Madrid's 2-1 defeat at Villarreal.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen (6), Roberto (7), Pique (7), Umtiti (7), Alba (8), Rakitic (7), Paulinho (7), Coutinho (7), Dembele (7), Alcacer (7), Messi (8).
Subs: Iniesta (6), Vidal (6), Gomes (6).
Athletic Bilbao: : Kepa (7), Lekue (6), Martinez (7), Nunez (6), Saborit (7), De Marcos (6), Benat (5), San Jose (5), Susaeta (5), Garcia (6), Sabin Merino (5).
Subs: Iturraspe (7), Williams (6), Aduriz (6).
Man of the match: Jordi Alba
Barcelona, who were without the injured Sergio Busquets, were in the mood from the off and they made the early breakthrough with Jordi Alba's pullback picking out Alcacer, who side-footed the ball into the bottom corner.
It was one-way traffic at the Nou Camp and Alba was involved again as Barca chased a second. The full-back cushioned the ball into the path of Phillipe Coutinho but the Brazilian's strike crashed back off the crossbar and away to safety.
Valverde's side doubled their advantage in the 30th minute when Ousmane Dembele picked out Messi and the Argentine rifled the ball past Kepa to score for the sixth successive match.
They could have added to their tally just before the break with Coutinho's lofted shot clipping the top of the bar before Paulinho's drive rebounded off the post.
In the second half, Barca couldn't quite reproduce the quality they produced in the opening 45 minutes which allowed Atheltic Bilbao to grow into the game.
Barcelona were without the suspended Luis Suarez and the injured Sergio Busquets. In came Paco Alcacer and Philippe Coutinho, while Paulinho replaced Andres Iniesta, who dropped down to the bench. Athletic Bilbao made eight changes from the side that lost 2-1 at home to Marseille on Thursday, crashing out of the Europa League.
Sabin Merino failed to trouble Marc-Andre Ter Stegn on two occasions when the space opened up in front of him, while substitute Aritz Adruiz saw a header deflect off Gerard Pique and wide of the target.
Barca rarely threatened and had to wait until the final 10 minutes for another clear-cut chance as Messi tested Kepa from distance before flashing a shot wide of the far post.
But despite a lacklustre second-half performance, the league leaders held on to move two games away from matching the longest unbeaten run in the Spanish top flight, which is held by Real Sociedad.
Barca's unbeaten run
Longest unbeaten runs in Spanish top division history:— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 18, 2018
Real Sociedad: 38 games (1979-80)
BARCELONA: 36 (2017-present)
Barcelona: 31 (2010-11)
Real Madrid: 31 (1988-89)
Real Madrid: 29 (1996-97)@FCBarcelona could set a new record of 39 on April 15 pic.twitter.com/uKk2fp1Cgd
Messi's scoring run
Man of the Match - Jordi Alba
The Spanish full-back was a constant threat down the left for the hosts.
He set up his side's opening goal, laying the ball on a plate for Alcacer to score and he could have had three or four more assists to his name had the finish been better.
Despite always wanting to be on the front foot, he never neglected his defensive duties as Barca picked up a fifth successive clean sheet in all competitions.
Barcelona are back in action on Saturday March 31 when they face a trip to Sevilla in La Liga. Athletic Bilbao are also in LaLiga action on March 31, hosting Celta Vigo at the San Mames Stadium (3.15pm)