Barcelona kept within striking distance of Atlético Madrid at the top of La Liga with an emphatic 6-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou on Sunday. Going into the game five points behind the leaders after Atlético's win over Las Palmas earlier in the day, Barcelona closed the gap to two points, and still have a game in hand. It came thanks to a win that was seemingly never in doubt from the moment Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was sent off for bringing down Luis Suárez in the box and Lionel Messi stuck home the resulting penalty with just seven minutes on the clock.
Suárez’s influence over proceedings was only to continue, setting up Neymar for Barcelona’s second goal and going onto fire a hat-trick. Midfielder Ivan Rakitic got the other goal on a comfortable day for the Catalans.
It had been anything but comfortable when these two sides met in the Spanish Super Cup back in August, as Athletic romped to a 4-0 win at the San Mames. And Ernesto Valverde’s side produced some early alarm for Barcelona again on Sunday. After Gerard Pique gifted away possession in his own box, Eraso had a glorious chance to give his side the lead in the opening minutes, but, with the goal vacated by Claudio Bravo and a teammate waiting in a better position, he chipped the ball over the crossbar.
Almost immediately the game turned on its head. Barcelona went down the other end and Suárez was clearly clipped by Iraizoz as he tried to round the Athletic goalkeeper in the box. There could be no doubt about that decision, but there was plenty of conjecture over whether Suárez had fouled Athletic defender Etxeita in the buildup. As it was, the visitors’ protests fell on deaf ears and the first act of replacement goalkeeper Iago Herrerin was to pick the ball out of his net from Messi’s confident penalty.
With 31 minutes gone Barcelona made it 2-0 and it was effectively game over. Suárez burst through the middle and played the ball across for a wide open Neymar, who took it on and beat Herrerin with a delightful dinked finish.
Messi was withdrawn at the interval, but it took Barcelona less than two minutes into the second half to get a third. As so often, Neymar and Suárez combined brilliantly around the box, with the Brazilian eventually feeding his forward partner through to apply a simple low finish. Neymar was at the heart of Barcelona’s fourth, goal too. The man recently voted third in the Ballon d’Or list, mesmerized Atheltic’s defenders down the left of the box before laying the ball on a plate for Rakitic to get his fourth goal of the season.
There was still time for Suárez to move clear of Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in the La Liga top scorers list. First he took sole possession of first place with a goal wonderful in its seeming simplicity, chesting down Arda Turan’s searching pass and poking the ball low under Athletic’s beleaguered goalkeeper. And the final blow for the visitors came with eight minutes remaining when Suárez headed in Sergio Busquets’ cross.