Barça coach Quique Setien had left Antoine Griezmann on the bench, and Messi was playing through the middle flanked by Sergio Roberto and Anus Fati. In midfield, Ivan Rakitic got the nod alongside Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets in favour of Arturo Vidal too. But at the back, a quartet of Jordi Alba, Clement Lenglet, Gerard Pique and Nelson Semedo came out entirely as scripted.
Barcelona came into the game after few difficult days with Messi very publicly calling out Sporting Director Eric Abidal. The controversy had perhaps some effect on the team dynamics and performance.
Fati again combined with Messi well and they looked dangerous together. Fati started superbly in the second half, and his one change of direction completely wrong-footed three Athletic defenders. Then Messi provided with a sublime pass to Frenkie de Jong through. Simon came out, and De Jong seemed to look for the foul more than the ball. He got neither and was booked.
Barcelona had a bad day in defence and midfield. Gerard Pique and others in defensive organisation, including Marc-André ter Stegen, were nowhere near to their best. Rakitic had a forgettable day, but de Jong made up for him.
Barcelona had four bookings in the first half, including their manager and Lionel Messi. A desperate Messi went through the back of Raul Garcia and was booked.
Fati was the first change, making way for Griezmann. His first contribution was to balloon over from Messi’s pass.
De Jong fell down in the box by an apparent push, but the referee played on, Alba and Sergi Roberto missed their share of chances to score.
Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao – Goal
Barcelona were always in problem during counter-attacks. When Inaki Williams raced away from Pique with the ball through the left flank, he grabbed his shirt to stop him. Williams dragged Pique along with him for several strides. This got Pique a booking and an injury. Umtiti was soon on to replace him.
There was a minute left of injury time when Williams got ahead of Sergio Busquets to head a cross from the right. Marc-Andre ter Stegen failed to judge the ball, as it went inside the net.
Williams had the last word in the evening. Athletic Bilbao will meet Granada in the semifinal of Copa del Rey.
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