Friday 25 May 2018

Barcelona rely on Ivan the great

Barcelona's Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic (R) is congratulated by teammates. Photo Getty
Barcelona's Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic (R) is congratulated by teammates. Photo Getty Newsdesk Newsdesk

Barcelona came through a gruelling La Liga test at a rainswept San Mames last night, beating Athletic Bilbao 1-0 thanks to Ivan Rakitic's first-half header.

The Croatia midfielder glanced in Arda Turan's cross to complete a sweeping move started by Luis Suarez and settle the visiting side's nerves after a few early scares, including goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen giving the ball away in his own area.

The champions grew in confidence as the game went on and stand-in captain Lionel Messi spurned two second-half chances while Suarez also failed to capitalise on a couple of clear opportunities.

Luis Enrique's men almost lived to regret their profligacy as Bilbao's Raul Garcia fired narrowly wide and Iker Muniain had a late penalty appeal turned down.

On Saturday night Toni Kroos netted a late winner as Real Madrid finally overcame Celta Vigo but their city rivals Atletico were left frustrated by a promoted side for the second successive week.

Real took a 60th-minute lead through Alvaro Morata but Celta drew level soon after thanks to Fabian Orellana's brilliant shot from outside the area. That looked set to earn Celta an unexpected draw, but Kroos' cool 20-yard finish with nine minutes left saw the European champions claim a 2-1 lead.

It was not such a good weekend for Atletico, though, as they were held 0-0 at neighbours Leganes.

Frank de Boer is still waiting for his first league win as Inter Milan boss as he had to settled for a 1-1 draw with Palermo after last week's 2-0 defeat at Chievo.

Napoli survived a second-half scare to beat nine-man AC Milan 4-2 on Saturday night.

Milan recovered from a two-goal half-time deficit to level, but their fightback proved in vain as Juraj Kucka and M'Baye Niang were sent off in the final 15 minutes and Napoli took advantage. Summer signing Arkadiusz Milik scored twice before the break before Niang and Spanish midfielder Suso brought the visitors level. But Milan imploded after the 74th-minute goal from Jose Callejon.

Kucka immediately picked up a second yellow card for shoving over Dries Mertens and Niang was also cautioned again for preventing Reina taking a quick throw. Napoli wrapped up victory when Alessio Romagnoli put through his own net in the final seconds.

Juventus' 1-0 win at Lazio was a far quieter affair with Sami Khedira settling a game of few chances in Rome.

Meanwhile in Ligue 1, Paris Saint Germain suffered their first league defeat of the season after losing 3-1 to Monaco, who jump to the top of the table. Joao Moutinho and Fabinho put the hosts 2-0 up at the break before Cavani brought PSG back into the game but Serge Aurier's own goal 10 minutes from time put the result beyond doubt.

Irish Independent

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