Player Ratings: Barcelona's Messi-Neymar connection strikes again

Lionel Messi assisted on both of Neymar's goals in Barcelona's 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barcelona achieved a well-deserved 2-0 win against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou on matchday three of La Liga. Neymar scored both goals for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 61 percent of possession, created 15 goal-scoring chances and attempted 14 shots, eight of them on target.

While it is obviously important for Barca to maintain their 100 percent record and their privileged position at the top of the league table, manager Luis Enrique should be equally proud of his team's energetic work rate and patience. The way the Asturian boss has improved the mind-frame of his players since his return is admirable.

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Despite being faced with a quality, well-positioned rival, the Blaugranas didn't despair and continued to chase the winning goal from beginning to end -- until they finally got their reward, late in the second half, thanks to inspired substitute Neymar.

Barcelona wore their Senyera shirt for the first time in their home stadium as a tribute to the 300th anniversary of the Siege of Barcelona. Their positive result after a well-contested match was definitely a fitting way to celebrate the end of one of the most emotionally charged weeks in recent Catalan history.

Player ratings

G Claudio Bravo, 6 -- The Chilean captain was preferred to Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the posts despite the German goalkeeper having already made his full recovery after three weeks on the sidelines. Bravo was solid throughout but, to be fair, Athletic didn't really challenge him enough to know whether the manager's decision will be the right one in the long run.

D Martin Montoya, 6 -- With Dani Alves in need of a couple of days off to get his knee back on track, the 23-year-old Catalan youngster was given a rare chance to start at the Camp Nou. Montoya was willing to overlap his teammates whenever needed, giving Barca some much-needed superiority in attack. However, he must improve his accuracy when crossing in order to seriously challenge for the starting spot in the future.

D Javier Mascherano, 6 -- The courageous Argentine was given the responsibility to play the ball on the floor from the back line, which he did with his usual accuracy and vision. As seems to be the case in recent games, however, he had to be substituted at half-time after clashing with a rival when attempting to recover a ball -- taking a boot to the eye on this occasion.

D Jeremy Mathieu, 7 -- Another start, another solid performance from the new French international. His height and speed allowed him to have the edge over his mark from beginning to end. Good to see him joining into attack from time to time, too.

D Jordi Alba, 6 -- A useful attacking outlet from the left flank, combining well with the attacking players ahead. Will surely become better as the season progresses, as his fitness level seems slightly off by his own very high standards.

M Sergio Busquets, 7 -- The anchor that kept the Blaugrana ship together. Quick and easy on the ball, always capable of finding the open man wherever they were on the pitch. His tackling stopped the Athletic forwards from creating much danger, especially before picking his yellow card for a clumsy tackle on Iker Muniain.

M Andres Iniesta, 6 -- More hard-working on defensive duties than Cules are used to, which ultimately affected his game going forward. Tried desperately to get involved, but it didn't always work out the way he expected. Many details of unrivalled class, but well-contained by his markers.

M Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- Despite having only played three official matches for Barca, the Croatian international is slowly but surely becoming the leader in one of the most competitive midfields in football history. Selected ahead of Xavi once again, Rakitic always had the edge when passing, tackling and even shooting from long range.

F Pedro, 5 -- Contributed both offensively and defensively thanks to his generous effort and relentless attitude. Having said that, his touch was often heavy and failed to make much of an impact with his endless runs into space.

F Munir, 7 -- The honeymoon period continued for the unpredictable 19-year-old striker. Sure, he didn't find the net on this occasion, but his ability to place himself in the right spot within the highly congested Blaugrana attack granted him a couple of clear goal-scoring chances that he will surely put away once he becomes more experienced at first team level.

F Lionel Messi, 9 (man of the match) -- The diminutive Argentine proved that he is determined to return to his former best with yet another display of astute passing, fearless dribbling and even increased defensive pressure. His connection with Neymar was decisive once again and unbalanced the game in the Catalans' favour. If Messi continues to excel at this rate, Cules can surely expect further silverware to be added to the Camp Nou museum at the end of the season.


D Gerard Pique, 5 -- Must improve his fitness, speed and mentality if he wants to truly re-establish himself not only as one of Europe's best defenders, but also as a regular starter for Barca. After coming on at halftime for Mascherano, he found defending Muniain a challenge at times but got away with it thanks to the support of Mathieu and Alba when tracking back.

F Neymar, 9 -- Proved a point to Luis Enrique after being benched for the third time in as many official matches. Came on in the 62nd minute for Munir, and his blistering runs into space and improving connection with Messi were just too much for the Basque defence to contain after over an hour of endlessly chasing after the ball.

F Sandro, NR -- Late substitute, didn't have much time to make an impact.

The quote -- "I am very pleased about my two goals, that was a perfect game. I play better alongside Messi. We are working well together up front. Let's hope this is my year. I was pleased to jump on the pitch and help my team win" -- Neymar.