Barcelona FC proved again to be the club to beat in La Liga, justifying its commanding lead in the standings. In executing an aggressive, attacking strategy in the first half, Barca netted three goals and never looked back, cruising to a 5-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao in Camp Nou.
The problematic defense of the Lions continued, as they entered this fixture giving up 27 goals in just 13 La Liga matches. As it turns out, Barca's incredible Liga-leading total of 43 goals was added to substantially against their opposition's flimsy defenses.
Superstar Lionel Messi sailed a corner kick to midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who fired toward the net. A brilliant save by goalkeeper Victor Valdes could not prevent Barcelona from getting on the scoreboard in the 21st minute, as Fabregas' attempt ricocheted off Valdes and was put home by Gerard Pique.
Just minutes later, Messi raced into the box down the middle off of a beautiful feed from Xavi Hernandez and had what looked to be a score of his own, but the shot was said to be kicked in by defender Fernando Amorebieta.
FOX Soccer Trax may have tweeted it prematurely, but the following statistic shows just how prolific of a scorer Messi is, as he continues to close in on history with five more matches to spare:
MESSI GOAL.gives Barcelona a 2-0 lead over Athletic Bilbao 25th min and moves him to within two goals of Gerd Muller's one-year record— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) December 1, 2012
It's still unclear whether the goal will be awarded to the Argentine.
Just moments later, though, Messi orchestrated a phenomenal sequence that led to the third goal for his club after avoiding six—yes, six—Lions defenders to find Fabregas just outside the 18-yard box. Fabregas then crossed it to the right side of the pitch, and Adriano Correia was waiting to slam it in.
It was an admirable effort from the visiting Lions in the early going. Unfortunately, it became clear that the host was going to dominate the match once first blood was drawn by Pique.
Barcelona played with the composure of an elite world football club, and never panicked in spite of the early tenacity from Bilbao. The second half was nearly as triumphant, as Barca continued to push. Fabregas notched his fifth goal in league play in the 56th minute, and Messi finally scored at 70'.
Ibai Gomez responded for the Lions with a goal at 65' before Messi's breakthrough. By then, though, the outcome was already decided. Here are some player grades from the lopsided La Liga fixture.
Lionel Messi: A+
The Barca striker finally found the net in the 70th minute after so many chances, his 84th goal of the year. He easily could have had four others, and he has to be considered the man of the match. Messi was the catalyst for his club's attack, as they overwhelmed Bilbao throughout—and he may be just one goal away from Muller's record when all is said and done.
Adriano Correia: A
The versatile midfielder and full-back not only had a goal but also helped the cause in shutting down the Lions' attack for most of the day. Gomez's goal was all that prevented Barca from registering a third consecutive clean sheet.
Ibai Gomez: B+
The 23-year-old striker did his part in this one, logging the only goal for the Lions. Aritz Aduriz has scored half of the Lions' 20 goals in 14 La Liga matches, and he can't do it on his own.
If manager Marcelo Biesa's club is to have any sort of turnaround and avoid the dreaded bottom-three in the standings, the attack must step up—particularly if the defense continues to be so poor.