Lionel Messi brilliantly provided hope of a miraculous comeback, but first-leg hat-trick hero Aritz Aduriz struck once more to dash 10-man Barcelona’s hopes of a perfect six trophies in 2015 and hand Athletic Bilbao the Spanish Super Cup. Despite trailing 4-0 from a stunning first leg hammering in Bilbao last Friday, Luis Enrique had talked up his side’s chances of pulling off a famous turnaround back at the Camp Nou. But a 1-1 draw, not helped by Gerard Pique’s dismissal for dissent early in the second half, saw last season’s treble winners fall short in a competition for the first time this year.
With the firepower of Messi and Luis Suarez -- although not Neymar, whose absence with mumps continued -- Barcelona could not be written off from completing a spectacular fight back. And Messi’s delightful touch and finish after an equally divine set up from Suarez two minutes before halftime showed just why. But Barcelona’s determination to take their trophy haul in 2015 to five spilled over into frustration in the case of Pique.
Apoplectic at an offside call not going in his side’s favor, Pique angrily confronted one of the assistant referees and whatever choice words he used earned him a straight red card. From that point there was to be no way back, confirmed when Barcelona’s defense extraordinarily vacated their positions to allow Aduriz two chances to beat Claudio Bravo and ensure, despite Kike Sola's sending off to level the numbers late on, the Super Cup was heading to Bilbao. For Barcelona, the real damage, though, had been done three days earlier at San Mames.
That extraordinary contest had come less than 72 hours after Barcelona required 120 minutes in Tbilisi to beat Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup. And the punishing schedule ultimately proved too much for the Catalans at the start of the season and when patently several players are not yet up to full speed.
Still, while a defeat means more to Barcelona than simply missing out on the glorified exhibition of the Super Cup, victory also means plenty to their opponents. For Athletic, less than three months after a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the final of the Copa del Rey, former Barcelona player Ernesto Valverde has now led the Basque club to their first trophy since 1984.
And it was fully deserved. Barcelona made six alterations to what had been an unfamiliar first-leg lineup, restoring the likes of Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and captain Andres Iniesta. Again, though, they failed to find their flowing best. Pique had struck the crossbar early on, while Pedro hit an air shot when given a sight of goal, but Athletic had the best of the early chances when Javi Eraso should have done better than to find the side netting.
Yet the Camp Nou crowd was brought to life before the interval. From Ivan Rakitic’s chipped cross, Suarez showed wonderful awareness to chest into the path of Messi, who instantly touched it down on his chest before sweeping a volley into the net.
The optimism as Barcelona reduced their arrears to 4-1 was to be short lived. Pique’s dismissal 11 minutes into the second half realistically ended Barcelona’s hopes, although soon after Pedro and Rakitic failed to take advantage of opportunities that may have injected some doubt into the minds of the visitors.
Any prospect of that transpiring was ended 16 minutes before the end. From a simple lofted ball forward, Oscar de Marcos won a header against Jeremy Mathieu and his flick-on left Aduriz in yards of space as Barcelona’s defenders simply looked on. Claudio Bravo saved first time but not the second as the man who destroyed Barcelona in the second half on Friday brought an end to the contest.
Barcelona now have plenty of work to do ahead of the start of their Primera Division title on Sunday against opponents they now know all too well -- Athletic Bilbao.