•Barca needed a late goal from substitute Ivan Rakitic to see off a determined Athletic side
•Barca thrashed Real Mallorca 4-0 on their return after the long break but looked rusty in last week’s 2-0 victory over struggling Leganes
Barcelona coach Quique Setien admitted his side have struggled to get going since the season returned following the three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after a scrappy 1-0 win at home against Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday.
Barca needed a late goal from substitute Ivan Rakitic to see off a determined Athletic side and although they picked up a third win in four matches since the season re-started, they again failed to sparkle.
“When teams offer you little space you have to be very precise and agile and we have been lacking that since we returned,” Setien told a virtual news conference.
“It’s not been easy and we are missing something overall, a bit of spark. Our opponents have a lot to do with this because they are sticking together and leaving hardly any space and we’re finding it hard to open them up.
“But I think we’ll start to find it easier the more the season goes on.”
Barca thrashed Real Mallorca 4-0 on their return after the long break but looked rusty in last week’s 2-0 victory over struggling Leganes and on Friday were held 0-0 at Sevilla, allowing Real Madrid to go top of the league on Sunday.
The win over Athletic took Barca three points ahead of Madrid but Zinedine Zidane’s side will go back to the top of the table with victory over Real Mallorca on Wednesday.
Setien was not pleased with how his side started against Athletic but praised youngsters Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati for helping to open their opponents up when they came off the bench.
“We were more relaxed in the second half and played much better. Ansu and Riqui gave us dynamism and allowed us to have longer periods of possession,” Setien said.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid earned a third consecutive La Liga win by beating Levante 1-0 away on Tuesday to cement their chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
The game was decided by an own goal in the 15th minute from Levante’s Bruno Gonzalez, who deflected the ball into his own net as he tried to prevent it reaching Diego Costa after some fine work from Marcos Llorente.
Atletico should have added to their lead in the first half but after the break had to withstand plenty of pressure from Levante, who are playing their home games in the town of La Nucia while their Ciutat de Valencia stadium is being renovated.
Yet Diego Simeone’s side saw out the victory to tighten their grip on third place by moving two points above fourth-placed Sevilla and six above Getafe in fifth, who drew 1-1 at Real Valladolid.
“We are very happy to win another game and the teams around us are dropping points so we’re getting closer to our objective,” said Llorente.
Llorente, who has undergone a radical transformation from a little-used holding midfielder to a highly effective second striker since the season resumed, was Atletico’s focal point in attack before being substituted after an hour.
He engineered the breakthrough by latching on to a through ball and spinning away from two Levante players before cutting the ball towards Costa, with Gonzalez getting there first to knock the ball unwittingly into the net.