Neymar double downs Athletic Bilbao


Two stunning pieces of skill by Lionel Messi and two languid finishes from substitute Neymar saw Barcelona beat a resilient Athletic Bilbao 2-0 to pick up a third consecutive win to stay top of the Primera Division. Ernesto Valverde's side had produced a disciplined performance at Camp Nou and looked to be heading for a point until a moment of brilliance from Messi released Neymar, who broke the deadlock with nine minutes remaining. The Argentina and Brazil captains then combined again for the second goal, with Messi cutting the ball back for his teammate to strike low into the bottom corner and deliver the final blow to Athletic. Although playing at home, Barcelona wore their away kit bearing the "senyera" — the Catalan national flag — to mark Catalan National Day two days previous, while Athletic wore their green away shirt, reflecting the colours of the Basque national flag. Dani Alves missed the game through injury and Gerard Pique began on the bench along with Neymar, so 19-year-old Munir El Haddadi made his third consecutive start. Athletic created the first sign of danger, with Claudio Bravo forced to punch clear a deep cross and then his opposite number Gorka Iraizoz pulled off a point-blank range save from Pedro. Although far from their best in the first half, Barca had their opponents on the ropes before half-time, with Iraizoz making two vital saves — first keeping out a low drive from Ivan Rakitic, then snuffing out a close range shot from Munir. Barca also had two penalty appeals turned down: the first a clash between Iraizoz and Munir in which the referee bizarrely ruled in the goalkeeper's favour; the second a push by Carlos Gurpegi on Messi that went unpunished. The hosts turned up the pressure after the break and Munir had a goal flagged offside within minutes of the restart. Jordi Alba had a low driven shot tipped round the far post by Iraizoz, and then Andres Iniesta struck over the bar from 25 yards out. Neymar replaced the lively but misfiring Munir and flashed a shot just wide of the far post, and might have slid home the opening goal had Iniesta not produced a sloppy pass which would have given the striker a clear sight on goal inside the area. But although Athletic's defence were resilient in the face of Barca's continued pressure, they were undone by Messi's vision and Neymar's cool finishing. A misplaced pass by Aymeric Laporte left the visitors exposed and Messi played a sweeping cross-field pass into the path of his Brazilian teammate, who brought it under control on the move before sending the ball into the opposite corner with the inside of his boot. Athletic had been dealt a lethal blow and lost all sense of organisation, and it was not long before they were another goal down. Messi scampered down the right wing unchallenged before flicking the ball back towards Neymar, who dispatched it into the bottom corner again to seal the win.