Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho shine but Ivan Rakitic subdued in Barcelona's win over Bilbao

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Barcelona moved 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid in La Liga with a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

With Luis Suarez suspended, Paco Alcacer started with Lionel Messi up front and scored the opener in the eighth minute.

The Argentine then added a second from just outside the box to seal the win.

Here’s our two good and two bad performances from the encounter.

TWO GOOD

LIONEL MESSI

He just gets better and better. Messi never looked like switched into top gear throughout the 90 minutes but was still the main man by a mile.

Bilbao simply couldn’t live with him and his goal was a perfect representation of that fact as he drilled a low effort past Kepa, finding the corner from the edge of the box, all while being closed down by four defenders. Unstoppable.

He peppered the goal with shots, registering seven of which four were on target. He had a hand in the opener as well, playing in Jordi Alba whose cross found Alcacer.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

PHILIPPE COUTINHO

The Brazilian didn’t score or provide an assist on the day but has a right to feel aggrieved as his efforts certainly warranted a reward.

He was arguably the most creative player on show, making three key passes against the Basque outfit. He deserved a goal as well. He struck the woodwork twice in the first half. He managed to hit Alba’s cut-back with a left-footed attempt on the half-volley that crashed off the crossbar.

Then, he made an excellent run in behind the defence and was found by Paulinho’s sublime first-time ball over the top but – on the stretch – he stabbed it over the keeper only to see it bounce off of the bar again.

Philippe Coutinho (l)

Philippe Coutinho (l)

TWO BAD

IVAN RAKITIC

With Sergio Busquets facing a spell on the sidelines, many expected Ernesto Valverde to turn to Andre Gomes in midfield but he opted for Ivan Rakitic and Paulinho as the duo on this occasion.

While Paulinho was the more advanced of the two, Rakitic was seemingly meant to fill in for Busquets but fell well short of the mark. His passing was safe and predictable, offering little in the build-up play.

He was really found out in the second half though when Bilbao were much better. Busquets’ reading of the game and positioning so often comes to the fore without possession but Rakitic wasn’t able to replicate the Spaniard’s shielding of the defence which came under pressure on a few occasions.

Ivan Rakitic (2nd R) was a spectator

Ivan Rakitic (2nd R) was a spectator

OSCAR DE MARCOS

Usually enjoys marauding down the right flank but his attacking play on this occasion was non-existent.

Instead, he found himself pinned back, attempting to keep up with mischief makers Alba and Coutinho down his side and largely failing to do so.

For the first goal, he was left on the deck by a slight shimmy from Messi who played it to Alba. The left-back then had all the time and space in the world to pick out his man for the finish.

Oscar De Marcos

Oscar De Marcos

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Don’t miss a single minute of action from Barcelona‘s La Liga clash against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou.

The Catalans take on the Basque side with 37 points separating the two sides in the league table.

The hosts will look to extend their eight-point lead over second placed Atletico Madrid.

Follow all the football with our live blog:

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Paco Alcacer set to start alongside Lionel Messi for Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao

David Cooper 18/03/2018
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Alcacer has netted five goals in all competitions this term.

With leading frontman Luis Suarez suspended, Spaniard Paco Alcacer is set to take his place up top for Barcelona when the runaway La Liga leaders face Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou on Sunday (7.15pm UAE).

Suarez picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the 2-0 win at Malaga last weekend – resulting in an automatic one-match ban – and opening the door to Alcacer’s inclusion from the start.

The 24-year-old, who has netted five times in all competitions this season, hasn’t completed 90 minutes in 2018 and has indeed failed to find the back of the net since the turn of the year.

However, he will likely take his place alongside Lionel Messi in a 4-4-2 system while Andre Gomes will come in for the injured Sergio Busquets and Philippe Coutinho is also set to return after being cup-tied for the Champions League win over Chelsea.

Meanwhile, Nelson Semedo is still out with a hamstring injury and Denis Suarez is also sidelined.

Barcelona hold an eight-point advantage at the top of the table, with second-placed Atletico Madrid also in action on Sunday against Villarreal.

LIKELY LINE-UP

Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Dembele, Rakitic, Gomes, Coutinho; Messi, Alcacer.

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