Barcelona Earn Fighting Draw at Los Leones

November 7, 2011

FC Barcelona snatched a last-minute point amid a torrential downpour away to Athletic Bilbao. Barça twice went behind, to Ander Herrera and a late own goal, but fought back, first with a fantastic Fàbregas header and a piece of last-gasp opportunism from Lionel Messi.

The opening half was gripping entertainment; a clash between two skillful sides combining speed of movement and no shortage of technical quality. The sodden San Mamés pitch, though hardly suited to passing football, made no real negative impact on the spectacle, beyond causing a couple of untimely slips, most notably in the build up to Bilbao’s 20th minute opener.

Barcelona seemed to settle into their game quite quickly here – early on, Javi Martínez had to make a last ditch tackle to foil a 50-yard run by Lionel Messi. But the home team always looked smart on the counter, led by their strapping talismanic striker Fernando Llorente. Moments after a warning shot by De Marcos was saved by Valdes, Munain skipped down the left wing – Dani Alves was covering, but lost his footing – the young winger then cut the ball back for Ander, whose deflected off Pique’s knee, past Barça’s despairing ‘keeper and into the net for 1-0.

Barcelona wasted no time getting back into the match; Messi rolled a smart free-kick into the path of Dani Alves, who shot straight at Gorka. Then, after a scramble on the left side of the area, Abidal found a couple of yards of space by the touchline. The Frenchman curled a wonderful cross that Cesc Fábregas headed into the top-right corner like a seasoned striker.

Although Barcelona were marginally in control, both sides then had chances to take the lead. After a spell of beautiful passing, Messi jinked to the edge of the Bilbao area and clipped a lovely pass through to Iniesta, whose toe-poke was just saved by Gorka. Then Ander slipped Munain behind Barça’s backline, but Valdes got down t make a great reflex stop to his left.

In the second half the appalling conditions finally took their toll on the game, with surface water hampering both teams’ efforts to keep the ball. It was Barcelona who were making a fist of it though. Iniesta had a 30-yard lob saved, and then Cesc played Messi in, but his shot was saved and scrambled away by Bilbao’s ‘keeper.

The home team were subdued, but there was a hint of a threat lurking beneath the surface. Mascherano tried to pass the ball back to Valdés from the halfway line, but the ball skipped off the surface and out for a Bilbao corner. The ball came in, and Abidal’s clearance hit Llorente on the shin – Pique tried to react, but could only diver the ball past Valdes to make it 2-1.

Then, after chances for David Villa and Iniesta, Messi took advantage of a defensive mix-up to equalise with a composed finish in the very last minute of normal time.

1-0 Ander (min 19)
1-1 Fabregas (min 23)
2-1 Fernando Llorente (min 78)
2-2 Messi (min 89)

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