Barcelona suffered their first La Liga defeat of the season, losing 1-0 away to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday at San Mames Barria.
Iker Muniain scored the only goal, finishing a swift move by the hosts in the 70th minute. With the win—their first over Barcelona since May 2006—Athletic moved up to fourth place on 29 points.
It was a second straight defeat in all competitions for Barcelona, who lost at Ajax on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League. Gerardo Martino's team dropped points for only the second time this season in 15 matches. The other was a scoreless draw at Osasuna in October.
Athletic had won six of eight home matches this season, with only Elche and Valencia escaping with draws before Barcelona's visit. Barca, for their part, had won six of seven on their travels this season before Sunday.
Despite the defeat, though, Barcelona remain atop the league table with 40 points. Atletico Madrid also have 40 points, but Barcelona have a superior goal differential. Real Madrid sit a further three points behind:
In the absence of injured superstar Lionel Messi, Martino selected Cesc Fabregas in the middle of his three-pronged attack, flanked by Neymar and Alexis Sanchez. Jose Manuel Pinto remained in goal in place of the injured Victor Valdes.
The visitors needed little time to settle into their trademark passing game and, before long, chances materialised.
Barca's first clear opening came in the 12th minute. Andres Iniesta picked out Alexis in the box and after Alexis held up the ball, Neymar ran on and blasted a high shot on target. Gorka Iraizoz stretched to tip the ball over for a corner.
In the 15th minute, Neymar hit the near post after being set free by a flowing Barcelona move, but he was ruled offside.
Athletic had a chance in the 29th minute when Markel Susaeta's cross from the right was deflected into a dangerous area in the middle of Barcelona's box but Iker Muniain could only scuff his shot straight at Pinto.
The hosts continued to grow into the game, and 10 minutes later, Susaeta dashed down the left and crossed for Gaizka Toquero, whose header flew wide of the far post.
After the break, Toquero directed a header on goal from a corner in the 48th minute but Pinto made a comfortable save. On the other end, Cesc picked out Neymar with an accurate lofted ball into the box but Neymar was unable to direct his shot on target.
There was controversy in the 57th minute, when Ander Iturraspe pulled back Neymar while the Brazilian ran onto a long ball near the edge of Atletic's box. The referee showed Iturraspe a yellow card for the foul, but Barcelona's players wanted a red. Neymar shot the ensuing free kick wide of the post:
Barcelona were left frustrated, but their fortunes were about to take a bad turn. Athletic Bilbao went ahead in the 70th minute and the goal was fully deserved. Ander Herrera won possession on the right and freed Susaeta with a pass to the edge of the Barcelona box. Susaeta crossed for Muniain, who finished first-time past Pinto.
Athletic nearly doubled their lead in the 74th minute, when Muniain picked out Toquero with a cross from the left. Toquero directed a powerful header on goal but Pinto pushed it away.
Barcelona pressed for the equaliser throughout the closing stages but were unable to find the net. The visitors finished with 11 shots—two on target—from 62 percent ball possession.
|Athletic Bilbao Player Ratings vs. Barcelona|
|Moreno Mikel Rico||6|
|Mikel San Jose||6|
Barcelona play at Cartagena on Friday in the fourth round of the Copa del Rey. On Dec. 11, Martino's team host Celtic in both teams' last game of the Champions League group stage. Barca return to La Liga on Dec. 14 with a home match against Villarreal.
|Barcelona Player Ratings vs. Athletic|
|Jose Manuel Pinto||7|
Athletic play at Celta Vigo on Saturday in the fourth round of the Copa del Rey. They return to La Liga on Dec. 15 with a match at Sevilla.