La Liga: Barcelona off to a winning start, Real Madrid held

Barcelona achieved a valuable 1-0 victory against Athletic Bilbao in their opening fixture of La Liga on Sunday evening.

Reigning European champions began their Primera Division title defence with a narrow win at San Mames. The fixture was the third in succession between the two teams after Basque club thrashed Barca in the Spanish Super Cup. Luis Enrique’s men had a point to prove after suffering an embarrassing 5-1 aggregate defeat when two sides met last week.

Uruguay forward Luis Suarez gave Barca the lead when he scored the goal just nine minutes into the second half. Suarez created overall 10 goal scoring chances and attempted seven shots, four of them on target and one to the post. Defending La Liga champions Barcelona began their traditional style of play tiki-taka and enjoyed 66 percent of possession.

The best chance for the home side came in the 77th minute through Aritz Aduriz but Markel Susaeta could only shoot harmlessly hide and wide. Lionel Messi missed the penalty in the first half of the game as goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz reacted well in diving low to his right to push softly struck spot kick wide.

Earlier, Real Madrid was held to a goalless draw against Sporting Gijon at El Molinon. Rafael Benitez witnessed a disappointing result in the first competitive fixture of his reign as Real Madrid manager. The Spanish giants were without Karim Benzema due to a thigh injury and regular goalkeeper Iker Casillas who moved out to Porto.

The hosts Sporting defended impressively and frustrated their opponents throughout the contest. Gareth Bale played in a new central role and came closest to scoring for Real in the opening minutes but from a tight angle he could shoot against the side netting.

The visitors gradually applied increasing pressure but still a goal looked beyond them. The game’s final chance came to Cristiano Ronaldo, three minutes into the stoppage time, when Real were awarded a free-kick from 25 yards. But the Portuguese forward harmlessly struck against the defensive wall. IMAGE/Alvaro Barrientos/AP

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