|First Division - Day 21|
Barcelona 7 - Athletic Bilbao 0
Gabri, Frank De Boer, Abelardo, Sergi; Guardiola (Xavi 63'), Cocu (Gerard 72');
Luis Enrique, Rivaldo, Overmars (Alfonso 72'); Kluivert. 4-2-3-1.
Team changes: Barcelona: Gabri, Sergi, Luis Enrique for Reiziger, Gerard, Simao / Bilbao: Yeste for Javi González.
Barcelona inflicted Bilbao's worse ever league defeat as they kept up the pressure on the top clubs in the only game brought forward to Saturday night. Playing probably their best match of the season, the Catalan side raced into a six goal lead by half time, and could have had more if Overmars had been on target and referee Esquinas Torres had not disallowed what would have been Luis Enrique's fourth shortly before the break. Luis Enrique was back in the side after a one match suspension, replacing Simao who picked up a serious groin injury in training which is likely to keep him out for six weeks or so, and the Asturian was on his best form. With Bilbao's defence keeping a close watch on top scorers Rivaldo and Kluivert, The Spanish international found space time and time again against a floundering defence who didn't know what time of day it was.
This was always going to be a high scoring game, Barcelona having scored four goals in no less than four of the last five meetings between these sides at the Camp Nou, and Bilbao themselves recording the highest score ever in the league when they beat their rivals 12-1 in the 1930/1 season. One of the key moments of the game came in the fourth minute, when Larrainzar caught a ball from Guardiola full in the face, and with the right back off the field receiving treatment Overmars took advantage to charge down the left wing and swing across a low centre which found Luis Enrique unmarked to open the scoring. Larrainzar returned and played the full 90 minutes, although he appeared groggy at first and was taken apart by Overmars who is currently on his best form of the season. Kluivert did the honours for Luis Enrique's second halfway through the half, and a minute later the Dutch striker found Cocu for him to shoot under Lafuente, the unfortunate keeper getting down to it but seeing the ball sneak under his body and roll into the net. By now everyone wanted to get in on the act, and the two central defenders combined close to goal for Frank De Boer to flick on with his heel for Abelardo to score the fourth.
Cocu was everywhere, back in his more usual role in midfield with Sergi returning at left back, and after he stepped over Overmars cross to leave Luis Enrique free to score his hat-trick, he added his own second just before the break. Txetxu Rojo didn't know what to do next, and he only made one change at half time, bringing on another of his talented youngsters Cuéllar for Etxeberria. With Barça taking their foot off the accelerator, Bilbao's first shot at goal came from Julen Guerrero around the hour mark, with Kluivert unlucky not to score the goal he deserved at the other end. Guardiola won himself his fifth yellow card of the season with a silly foul, obviously looking to serve out his one match suspension against bottom club Racing next week rather than against Depor or Real Madrid in two or three weeks time, and with his work done he left the field.
Overmars finally found the route to goal with an individual effort, only his second of the season, but he then went off with an injury which will probably keep him out for ten days or so. But by now the crowd were doing the Mexican wave, and TV cameras showed Rivaldo's little son Rivaldinho joining in as the crowd chanted his father's name when he lined up to take a pot at goal from a free kick. It was a festival of football, and left Barcelona temporarily in second place pending Sunday's games. Bilbao's lions went home to lick their wounds, their pride damaged. They receive the visit of Real Madrid next week, and are determined to bounce back in that game. Not much chance on this showing. After the match the Barcelona players left under a cloak of security, still affected by the attempted kidnapping of Iván De la Peña during the week.