Barcelona called upon the firepower of the “MSN” to shoot down a resilient Athletic Bilbao that had threatened to knock them out of the Copa del Rey.
Instead, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar inflicted a third successive cup defeat on Bilbao, winning 3-1 and 4-3 on aggregate, to send Barca into the last eight.
Barca showed their fighting spirit in overcoming two difficult games and a fair few unfavourable refereeing decisions. Neymar’s return to scoring after almost three months was a welcome relief, even if it came from the penalty spot, while Suarez hit his 100th goal for the club, a remarkable feat given he has only been in Catalonia for two and a half years and played 120 games.
Barca conceded for the third game in a row, despite affording Athletic hardly any chances on the night.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Luis Enrique’s decision to play Jasper Cillessen over Marc-Andre ter Stegen was risky given the circumstances, but his desire to make the Dutchman his goalkeeper in the cup is understandable. Rafinha offered plenty of energy in midfield and was a marked improvement on Andre Gomes, although most of the work was done by the front three, who pick themselves.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jasper Cillessen, 6 — Was back after missing the first leg through injury and had a fairly comfortable evening, rarely being called into action apart from the goal, which was near-impossible to stop.
DF Sergi Roberto, 5 — Showed yet again that he cannot be relied upon in big games, failing to mark Enric Saborit properly for Athletic’s only goal or even making any attempt to try and cut out the cross. This error can be added to previous costly mistakes against Sevilla and Manchester City.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 — Had a solid night marshalling the defence and used his experience and intelligence to swipe the ball cleanly from Inaki Williams at a crucial moment in the game and the tie.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 5 — Again showed weaknesses when trying to carry out basic defensive tasks, wildly trying to clear a cross in the second half that could have resulted in an own goal, and was booked for a foul on Mikel Balenziaga before the break, meaning he was living dangerously for the remainder of the game.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 — Proved that he is streets ahead of Lucas Digne after losing his place to the Frenchman against Villarreal, causing Athletic extra stress from the left — as if dealing with the constant threat of Neymar from that area was not enough to worry about.
MF Rafinha, 6 — Chosen ahead of Andre Gomes and Ivan Rakitic and rewarded his coach with an intense display in the middle, preventing Athletic from getting forward often.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 — Mostly played well but almost ruined Barca’s night with a risky pass from the byline which landed at the feet of Benat on the edge of the area, but fortunately for him the danger was quickly averted.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 — Not his most memorable display in a Barca shirt but gave the team control with his fluid passing, which would have lead to the opening goal but for a wrongly raised flag against Neymar.
MF Lionel Messi, 9 — Nothing can tame the Argentine maestro at the moment, and yet again he dragged Barca over the finish line. He carved Athletic’s rigid defence open for the opening goal by wriggling free of two players and ultimately decided the tie with another splendid free kick, his second in four days.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 — Got his 100th goal for Barca, the fastest player to reach the tally since club great Laszlo Kubala. He did so in emphatic fashion with a classy volley, and was unfortunate to have a legitimate goal chalked off before then, and came to within a whisker of netting again in the second half.
FW Neymar, 9 — The Brazilian finally got the goal his explosive performances of late have warranted and would have got extra satisfaction at winning the penalty after being denied such a clear one in San Mames. He was also unlucky not to score from open play after slicing Athletic open for the umpteemth time, rolling the ball off the near post.
MF Ivan Rakitic (for Rafinha), NR — Got a great reception from the Camp Nou faithful when he came on with 10 minutes left.
MF Denis Suarez (for Neymar), NR — Came on in the 88th minute.
FW Arda Turan (for Iniesta), NR — Was brought on as injury time approached, possibly with the aim of running the clock down further.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.