LaLiga: Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao to move back on top; Atletico Madrid secure win against Levante
Barcelona earned a hard-fought 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday to put the pressure back on Real Madrid in the Spanish league.
Madrid: Barcelona earned a hard-fought 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday to put the pressure back on Real Madrid in the Spanish league.
Ivan Rakitic's second-half winner moved Barcelona back in front of Madrid ahead of the rival's home match against relegation-threatened Mallorca on Wednesday.
Rakitic broke the deadlock in the 71st minute to leave Barcelona three points in front of Madrid, who can retake the lead with a win because they have better tiebreakers.
“We can't worry about our rival, just about us,” Barcelona coach Quique Setién said. “We needed to win, and now we wait to see what happens in their match."
Rakitic scored less than 10 minutes after coming off the bench, firing a right-foot shot into the corner after an assist by Lionel Messi.
“It was an important win in a very difficult match,” Rakitic said. “It took a while for us to get into the match. They did well by not giving us a lot of space.”
It was Rakitic’s first goal for Barcelona since March 2019.
“It took 31 rounds for me to finally score my first goal of the season," he said. “I was mad at myself that it took so long."
Messi, who turns 33 on Wednesday, again wasn’t able to score his milestone 700th career goal for club and country. He came close twice with shots that just missed the target late in the second half.
Barcelona were coming off a 0-0 draw at Sevilla, a result that allowed Madrid to take over the lead for the first time since the league resumed after the pandemic break.
Athletic, who has won only one of its four matches after the break, dropped to 10th place.
Atlético Madrid extended their good run after the pandemic break with a 1-0 win at Levante.
An own-goal by Bruno González in the 15th minute gave Atlético their third straight win and moved Diego Simeone's team back into third place in the standings. Atlético are two points ahead of Sevilla, who had temporarily moved in front after a 2-2 draw at Villarreal on Monday.
Atlético were sixth when the league was interrupted by the coronavirus , but their winning run — coupled with a series of poor results by their rivals — allowed the team to quickly get back into the Champions League places.
“Happy for another victory and for these very important three points that take us closer to our goal of qualifying for the Champions League,” Atlético midfielder Marcos Llorente said.
González found his own net while trying to intercept a cross from Llorente to Diego Costa inside the area.
Atlético are six points clear of fifth-place Getafe, which drew 1-1 at Valladolid.
The measure comes at a time when COVID-19 cases in Spain have dropped to their lowest level since July 2020.
Josep Bartomeu said that most of the club’s financial woes had been caused by the impact of the pandemic, which closed down Camp Nou for more than a year and reduced other sources of revenue.
Barcelona want to increase Camp Nou's capacity to 110,000 while also refurbishing its surrounding area, which includes a pavilion for the club's other sports, the museum and stores.