Barcelona brush aside Bilbao to go top
Champions Barcelona brushed aside Athletic Bilbao 4-1 on Saturday to return to the top of La Liga and open a three-point gap on Real Madrid who they face next week in 'El Clasico'.
Barcelona have a decisive week ahead of them with the Champions League quarter-final second leg at home to Arsenal on Tuesday and then a trip to Real four days later. They enjoyed the perfect preparation on Saturday with three points and a convincing win that puts the pressure on Real Madrid to win at Racing Santander on Sunday.
"Without doubt Tuesday's game (against Arsenal) is the most important of the season," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "If we progress we can reach the end of the season with the chance to become league and European champions."
The 22-year-old Jeffren Suarez opened the scoring with his first goal of the season on 26 minutes before the 19-year-old Bojan stole the show with a brace either side of the interval. "I am happy with the goals and three vital points," said Bojan. "Goals always give you confidence and if the coach needs me (against Arsenal and Real Madrid) I am ready."
Lionel Messi scored his 26th goal of the campaign to make it four after 66 minutes and Bilbao were desperate for the final whistle at Camp Nou.
Elsewhere Sevilla ended a run of six league games without a win defeating Tenerife 3-0 to go a point above Real Mallorca into fourth. First half goals from Frederic Kanoute and Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano put the hosts in control as coach Antonio Alvarez tasted his first win in charge as Sevilla climbed back into the top four. It was another nightmare roadtrip for Tenerife who are the only side yet to win away from home and lie third from bottom, six points from safety.
With a testing week against Arsenal, against whom they are level 2-2, and Real Madrid to come, Barca coach Guardiola chose to rest Xavi and Thierry Henry while Dani Alves was suspended. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer in each of his last four matches, picked up a leg injury in the warm-up - which may rule him out of the Arsenal game - so Bojan came in for only his third start of the season.
Barca went ahead on 26 minutes with Messi releasing Eric Abidal down the left and the Frenchman crossed across the face of goal where Jeffren slid the ball in for his first goal of the season. Fernando Llorente had a great chance to equalise on 33 minutes but shot over from close range.
With four minutes until the break Barca struck again with a stray pass pounced on by Carles Puyol, who is suspended for the Arsenal game, and the captain set up Bojan who produced a cool finish at the near post.
Bilbao, who beat Real Madrid earlier this season, hit the post early in the second period while Javi Martinez screwed a shot wide when one-on-one with goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Guardiola responded by throwing on playmaker Xavi and the hosts picked up the pace with Bojan curling in a fine effort on 58 minutes and eight minutes later substitute Pedro crossed for Messi to tap in. Markel Susaeta pulled a goal back for Bilbao.
Real Zaragoza moved seven points clear of the bottom three with a 2-0 home win over relegation rivals Malaga. Argentine Leo Ponzio scored his first goal of the season to put Zaragoza ahead on the stroke of half-time before Chile international striker Humberto Suazo killed the game off on 75 minutes.
Zaragoza's second successive win sees them jump a point above Malaga into 15th place with Racing Santander, at home to Real Madrid on Sunday, dropping to fourth from bottom, six points above the drop.