Bilbao // It was not the backlash Athletic Bilbao expected after beating Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate in the Spanish Super Cup, but the Basques were defeated by a single Luis Suarez goal in their opening Primera Liga game of 2015/16.
Lionel Messi’s first-half penalty kick was saved, and it was left to Suarez to give Barcelona a lead after 54 minutes when he volleyed home a powerful shot from three metres.
Suarez, who had been set up by a first-time cross from Jordi Alba, punched the air as he saluted the 1,000 away fans on a warm summer evening.
Athletic’s players had paraded the Super Cup before the game, their first trophy for 31 years. Over 50,000 fans met the victorious players back in Bilbao and a similar number attended their first league game.
They saw Daniel Alves depart injured after 18 minutes and replaced by Sergi Roberto in an otherwise full-strength Barcelona side, but for the suspended Gerard Pique.
A surprise selection was Thomas Vermaelen ahead of Marc Bartra. The former Arsenal defender celebrated his first league start since joining Barca a year ago with a yellow card for a foul on Aritz Aduriz, the 34-year-old striker who had scored three goals when the teams met in Bilbao nine days ago.
Barca had the first half’s best chance to go ahead when a 30th-minute penalty was awarded after Suarez was brought down by Elustondo, who had handled an earlier Messi header in the area.
Athletic’s captain and goalkeeper, Gorka Iraizoz, pushed Messi’s weak, low effort wide of his right post to a huge roar.
It was the 14th time Messi had failed to covert from 63 penalties for his club.
Five minutes later, Roberto struck the outside of the post to approval from his manager, Luis Enrique.
Athletic improved after the goal, but the home crowd were livid when Aduriz was ruled offside in the 72nd minute.
The veteran striker had tackled Sergio Busquets in the 66th minute, which saw the Barcelona player go off in pain and replaced by Bartra.
Enrique looked concerned by the injuries, but he could be satisfied with a first clean sheet in four games.
The European champions had conceded nine goals in their opening three games this season, the same as they conceded in their opening 15 last season.
Suarez was booked for a 74th-minute tussle with Carlos Gurpegui as Athletic’s urgency increased.
Summer signing Javier Eraso held the ball for too long in Barcelona’s box before playing it back to Markel Susaeta, who aimed his shot at the nearby Guggenheim Museum rather than Claudio Bravo’s goal in the 77th minute.
Aduriz skied an effort two minutes later, clearing the first tier with a shot after he had been set up with a Sabin Merino cross.
An unusually quiet Messi saved a mazy dribble towards goal for four minutes from time as the game opened further and Aymeric Laporte shot from distance, but neither side could find the net at the end of a third engrossing battle between the sides in nine days.
“Athletic is a tough opponent, we knew that,” Suarez said. “This win is important to gain confidence.”
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