Now sitting at 81 points, four behind leaders Atletico Madrid and two ahead of Real Madrid, who have a game in hand due to the postponement of their earlier match against Valladolid because of to the Merengues' mid-week Champions League first leg match against Bayern Munich, the Catalans seemed relieved to have pulled out the win.
As the game began we began to get news nuggets from the relatively sparsely attended Camp Nou. Neymar's injury will keep him out of the rest of La Liga play as his recuperation period would only allow him to make the final game, if that. Tata Martino is said to be on his way out and details of his departure are in the works as is the search for his replacement. Cesc Fabregas, Javier Mascherano, Pedro, and Adriano were all talked about as if they were either considering transfers or looking to better their lots in anticipation of offers.
A number of starters were in the stands watching the game, some there via injury others via suspension and others still via rotation rest times. On the row of player-spectators the visible quartet included Neymar, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, and Carles Puyol. These are tough times for Barca and no one on or off the pitch seemed to be smiling.
The match itself was anything but one-sided as Bilbao gave almost as much as it got, keeping those scowls on the Catalan faces. That said, Gorka Iraizoz, Bilbao's keeper, was the MVP of the first half as he had three point blank saves--from Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro-- aside from two off of blistering shots from just outside the box and two rebounds inside the box.
At the 29th minute Aritz Arduriz went for a bicycle kick off of a cross and managed to hit the right post. Barca goalkeeper, Jose Pinto, could only watch the ricochet as the shot froze him. The rebound fell to Markel Susaeta whose immediate shot Pinto parried up and away.
At the 31:33 minute Sanchez received a bouncing left to right cross from Pedro on the wing. The ball reached the Chilean striker at the top of the goalie's box but as Sanchez one-timed it the ball hit the crossbar and bounded away. The half ended nil-nil.
At the 49:55 minute Athletic's Arduriz was allowed a point-blank shot, straight down the center and just outside the box and he obliged with a well placed shot to Pinto's left for the opening score.
It took twenty-two minutes for Barcelona to get up to speed and when they did Pedro redirected a Sanchez shot-pass off a great Dani Alves run around three Bilbao defenders for the Barca score at the 72nd. Then it only took two minutes for Barca to pounce on another chance that saw Messi streak down the middle of the field and get tripped just outside the box. The ensuing free-kick was placed with pace by Messi into the lower left of the goal as the wall obligingly moved out of the way. Barca 2, Bilbao 1.
The game was exciting as much because Bilbao was on as because it took all Barca had to play them even. At match's end it was as obvious why the visitors are fourth on the table, as it was why the hosts were in third place this season.