Barcelona’s lead at the top of Spain’s La Liga was reduced to mere goal differential after Athletic Bilbao shocked the defending champion, 1-0, at the new Estadio San Mames on Sunday. Striker Iker Muniain scored the only goal of the game from a counterattack in the 70th-minute as Neymar & Co., struggled to unlock an organized Bilbao defense. The loss, Barca’s first of the season and second in a row in all competitions, left the Catalan giant level on points with high-flying Atletico Madrid, which won 2-0 at Elche, and just three points ahead of hated rival Real Madrid, which won 4-0 against Real Valladolid at home.
The defeat in Bilbao came just five days after Barca lost 2-1 against Ajax in Amsterdam in UEFA Champions League Group H play last Tuesday. “When you lose, there are always doubts and questions that arise, but one game had nothing to do with the other,” Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta said. “We have to correct our mistakes. It’s a loss. That can happen. We shouldn’t see it any other way.”
Tata Martino’s team has now won once and lost twice since star striker Lionel Messi suffered a left hamstring injury that will likely keep him out until mid-January. “This team isn’t used to losing two consecutive games,” Martino said. “We came here with the intention of rebounding from the first loss, so it’s a shame not to win after we did enough to deserve it. Until Bilbao scored, we were the better side, controlling the ball and creating chances for long stretches. After their goal it was a different game.”