Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao: 6 Things We Learned

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao: 6 Things We Learned

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    It has been a disastrous fortnight for Barcelona after three defeats in a row across three separate competitions.

    They were eliminated in the Champions League by Atletico Madrid, lost to Granada in La Liga and then Gareth Bale gave archrivals Real Madrid the Copa del Rey.

    They sat seven points from the top before Sunday's matchup, and the arrival of fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao was hardly a game in hand.

    Athletic had rediscovered their winning form with back-to-back victories over Levante and Malaga.

    Over the next few pages are six things we learned from this latest encounter.

Aduriz in the Form of His Life

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    The 33-year-old striker has always been prolific; he has scored goals at every club he has played for.

    But Aritz Aduriz is certainly happier in Bilbao. Under the guidance of Ernesto Valverde, he has more league goals in a single season than he has ever had.

    The execution of his overhead kick was superb, and he was extremely unfortunate not to score in the first half.

    It's now ten goals in eight games for the forward. He was a constant threat for Barcelona's defence, and the opening goal was coming.

Confidence Is Low at the Camp Nou

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    When your season is effectively finished inside a week, it's natural for players to question themselves and the manager.

    It was expected that Barcelona would make it four consecutive defeats if they fell behind.

    Numerous one-on-one situations had been missed. Pedro, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi were all denied by Gorka Iraizoz. They clearly have issues in front of goal at present.

    When the breakthrough was finally made and an equaliser was found, it was both fortunate and instinctive from Pedro. The winner was just Messi blasting in a free-kick.

Barcelona More Balanced Without Neymar

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    When the Brazilian suffered a metatarsal injury this week (via FIFA), it was a bigger blow for the player than the club.

    Neymar is without a doubt a very good player, and he will become an important member of this team over time.

    The team has more balance tactically without the forward. Alexis Sanchez and Pedro are more penetrative with their runs in behind defences.

    The two wingers have 32 league goals between them, and they are Barcelona's best chance of finding the net after Messi.

Ernesto Valverde Passes Audition

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    "This is a joke, no?" said Ernesto Valverde when quizzed at a press conference on Sport's story that he was on the shortlist for the Barcelona job. No one at the Camp Nou appears to be laughing, though.

    Valverde's brilliance at Athletic Bilbao has been in giving a structure and tactical methodology to an underperforming team.

    Marcelo Bielsa, the former manager of Athletic Bilbao, had beliefs on how to play the game that didn't always work out for the team.

    The club is more pragmatic under Valverde; they are organised defensively, yet still dangerous in attack.

Aymeric Laporte Is the Centre-Back Barcelona Crave

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    The French defender is only 19, but he displayed once more his ability for the big occasion.

    It's only his first season as a regular for Athletic; just two players have started more matches for the club than Aymeric Laporte.

    Alongside Mikel San Jose, he defended resolutely throughout the match and was clever within his positioning.

    He is tall, powerful, quick and comfortable in possession. Naturally suited to stopping physically imposing strikers, it was notable how he performed against smaller, trickier attackers.

    Few get the better of Messi, but he superbly timed a last-ditch tackle against the Argentine, impressing all those that were watching.

Slim Title Hope Remains

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    There was a lot of luck about the way Barcelona got themselves back into the match, but they were in need of a bit of fortune.

    It would have been extremely difficult to win the title had they lost or even drawn this game.

    They don't look like a team that will win the league at present, but their sublime start to the campaign means they are still in the hunt for the league trophy.

    With Atletico Madrid travelling to Catalonia on the last day of the season, Barcelona has a chance if they can close the gap slightly before then.