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Ivan Rakitic scores as Barcelona beat Athletic Club



Ivan Rakitic

Ivan Rakitic scored the only goal as Barcelona ran out 1-0 winners over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames.

Ivan Rakitic

Ivan Rakitic

Barcelona continued their 100 per cent start to the new LaLiga season with a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames.

Ivan Rakitic’s headed first-half goal earned Barcelona a sixth consecutive league victory over Athletic, who are without a point after their first two games of the season.

Ernesto Valverde’s men were attempting to bounce back from a disappointing defeat to Sporting Gijon in the opening game of the season, but Barcelona got the better of them on a rainy night in Bilbao.

The result helped Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen banish the memory of a 4-0 defeat at San Mames in last season’s Spanish Supercup – a night when questions were raised about his suitability for the club’s number one jersey.

The German will now compete with Jasper Cillessen, who arrived from Ajax last week, for the gloves following Claudio Bravo’s move to Manchester City.

One misplaced first-half pass aside, Ter Stegen came through the test and Barcelona’s steely defending and sumptuous attacking play ensured all three points went back with them to Catalonia.

Lionel Messi’s early break down the right wing launched a sweeping move that ended in Denis Suarez lofting a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the box as Barcelona started brightly.

But Athletic quickly dulled their visitors’ edge and a woeful pass out of the box from Ter Stegen allowed Benat to collect the ball and fire in a fierce shot, the keeper having to react quickly to block the effort with his arm.

Ter Stegen made amends shortly after, saving well from Inaki Williams when the tricky forward flashed the ball dangerously across the face of goal.

Barcelona were forced to play counter-attacking football and they did so adeptly, taking the lead after 21 minutes when Luis Suarez fed Arda Turan, who broke into the box and sent over a pin-point cross that Rakitic could not fail to score from with a close-range header.

Heavy rain in Bilbao slowed the pace of the game and Barcelona began to dominate possession and play flowing football, piecing together passing moves that left Athletic ball-watching.

Samuel Umtiti fired a shot over the crossbar from a Messi free-kick, while at the other end Ter Stegen saved easily from Aritz Aduriz and Benat, but the half ended with Barcelona in the ascendancy and Turan should have scored when he side-footed wide just before the break.

Barcelona continued to threaten after half-time, and Luis Suarez teed up Messi for a shot that flashed within inches of Gorka Iraizoz’s post.

Moments later Sergi Roberto released Rakitic, who crossed to Luis Suarez and the Uruguayan volleyed just wide with only Iraizoz to beat.

Athletic introduced midfielder Raul Garcia and he had an immediate impact, firing a shot just wide before setting up Williams for an attempt that Ter Stegen saved well.

Delightful link-up play between Turan and Luis Suarez created time and space for Messi to shoot with 20 minutes remaining, only for the Argentine to blaze his shot uncharacteristically over the crossbar.

The final word almost fell to Luis Suarez, who was sent racing clear by Roberto and he beat Eneko Boveda and Aymeric Laporte before firing high and wide.

With the last chance of an entertaining, end-to-end encounter, the former Liverpool man then had a shot cleared off the line from a counter-attack when it appeared easier to score.

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