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HomeSportsRakitic winner edges Barca past Athletic Bilbao

Rakitic winner edges Barca past Athletic Bilbao

Ivan Rakitic’s first-half header maintained Barcelona’s 100 percent start to the La Liga season as the champions withstood a wave of late pressure to win 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao.

Rakitic winner edges-AV

Rakitic finished off an excellent team move after 20 minutes, but with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez uncharacteristically wayward in front of goal, Athletic nearly grabbed a point when Benat Etxebarria’s free-kick flew just wide late on.

Barca join Real Madrid and top-of-the-table Las Palmas as the only sides with two wins from their first two games. Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid are already four points off the pace after disappointing draws against newly-promoted Alaves and Leganes.

“The games here are always very similar,” Rakitic said.

“It is very intense, there is a lot of pressing. Both teams played well, but in the end we deserved the win.”

Still without Neymar due to his exertions in winning Olympic gold and the injured Andres Iniesta, Barca demonstrated their greater strength in depth this season as new recruits Denis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti shone, while Arda Turan proved an able deputy for Neymar alongside Messi and Suarez.

“In terms of tempo it was a frenetic game, not usually the kind you get at this stage of the season,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.

“The result strengthens us. It is very difficult to play against Athletic Bilbao in San Mames. I’m very happy.”

The return of Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal in place of the departed Claudio Bravo was Barca coach Luis Enrique’s only change from the opening day 6-2 thrashing of Real Betis.

Ter Stegen was featuring in La Liga for just the eighth time in his third season with the Catalan giants as Bravo had been first choice in the league for the past two seasons.

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