Lionel Messi, Barcelona Dominate Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in 2018 La Liga Win

Rory Marsden@@roomarsdenFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2018

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 18:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona runs with the ball under pressure from Mikel San Jose of Athletic Club during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on March 18, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barcelona moved another step closer to winning the 2017-18 La Liga title as they earned a routine 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

Paco Alcacer and Lionel Messi both netted in a masterful opening-half performance from Ernesto Valverde's side.

Barca were happy to sit back slightly after half-time and invite Athletic to break them down, something Jose Angel Ziganda's side resoundingly failed to do.

The Blaugrana's lead at the top of the table now sits at 11 points with nine games of the season remaining, although second-placed Atletico Madrid could close the gap back to eight points when they visit Villarreal later on Sunday.

Barcelona provided both lineups ahead of kick-off:

FC Barcelona 🏆🏆 @FCBarcelona

👤 XI ⚽️ #BarçaAthletic 🔵🔴 https://t.co/i6cTBowitv

FC Barcelona 🏆🏆 @FCBarcelona

🔴⚪ XI for @AthleticClub: Arrizabalaga, Saborit, Iñigo Martínez, Núñez, De Marcos, Beñat, San José, Lekue, Raúl García, Susaeta, Sabin Merino #BarçaAthletic

The hosts were dominant from the off and almost went ahead through a Messi free-kick in the fifth minute that was just kept out by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Three minutes later, Barca were in front when Alcacer swept home from 12 yards after receiving the ball in plenty of space from a Jordi Alba cut-back.

Messi then doubled Barca's lead on the half-hour mark as he drilled a pinpoint finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the box for his eighth goal in six matches, per Sky Sports Statto:

Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto

Lionel Messi scores in a 6th successive appearance for @FCBarcelona (8 goals in last 27 days) His record run of scoring in successive apps is 10 games, set between Dec 2012-Jan 2013 #BarçaAthletic #Messi https://t.co/MBdJBOtHYG

It was fairly remarkable that Messi and Alcacer's strikes were Barca's only goals of the opening 45 minutes given their complete control of the game.

Philippe Coutinho hit the crossbar twice in the opening half, Paulinho hit the post, and Messi forced another decent save from Kepa.

Spanish football writer Andy West pithily summarised the first-half action:

Andy West @andywest01

Maybe Barça's most comfortable 45 minutes of the season. Rakitic and Pique dominating the middle, Dembele and Coutinho threatening from wide, Messi...being Messi. Athletic bland and tepid.

Barca's intensity dropped in the second half, and they were nowhere near as threatening going forward, nor did they need to be.

Athletic caused very few problems for the Barca back line nor did they show any indication they could get back into the match.

Indeed, when the visitors did finally get a shot on goal in the 69th minute, Raul Garcia knew very little about the attempt as Enric Saborit's effort clipped his heels and was easily taken by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barcelona were largely happy to simply keep hold of the ball for the final quarter of the match, and although there were attempts at both ends in the dying minutes, a comfortable home victory never looked in doubt.


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