Bilbao: Memphis Depay scored his first goal for Barcelona to salvage a 1-1 draw away to Athletic Bilbao last night in La Liga, while defender Eric Garcia was shown a straight red card in added time for a last-ditch foul.
Athletic defender Inigo Martinez had given the hosts a deserved lead in the 50th minute by heading home from a corner after his side had dominated the first half and seen a shot cleared off the line at the start of the second.
Barca struggled to cope with Athletic’s intensity but cashed in when the Basques took their foot off the gas and seemed content to defend their lead rather than look for a second goal.
Frenkie de Jong hit the crossbar with a sumptuous chip and moments later Depay levelled in the 75th minute with a thunderous strike from a tight angle, his shot flying beyond the reach of helpless Athletic keeper Julen Agirrezabala.
The Netherlands forward then could have snatched all three points for Barca when he again got down the left hand side of Athletic’s area, but this time he looked to place his shot and dragged it wide of the far post.
Barca defender Gerard Pique had limped off in the first half for Ronald Koeman’s side, who were playing their second game of the season after thrashing Real Sociedad 4-2 at home last week, in their first league match since Lionel Messi left for Paris St Germain.
Garcia was shown a straight red card on his second outing for Barca when he hauled down Athletic forward Nico Williams on the edge of the area, but the hosts failed to capitalise from the resulting free kick.
“We did not play a good game, we moved the ball far slower than usual and we have to improve a lot,” said Barca forward Antoine Griezmann.
“They pressed us very well and caused us a lot of damage while we made a lot of sloppy passes. We have to fix this because our opponents will start to notice and will be able to see how they can hurt us.”
Barca should have taken an early lead when Depay got to the byline from the right and his low cross deflected into the path of Martin Braithwaite from close range but the Danish forward leant back and skied his shot, letting a glorious chance go to waste.
Athletic then began their period of dominance and came close to getting the opener when midfielder Oihan Sancet rattled the underside of the crossbar, while speedy forward Inaki Williams ran Barca ragged.
Williams caused the visitors more havoc in the opening minute of the second period when he got behind the defence and the ball bounced towards Alex Berenguer but Barca defender Ronald Araujo got back to clear his shot off the line.
Athletic’s goal arrived soon enough though, Martinez freeing himself from his marker to glance in Iker Muniain’s corner and the 10,000 fans allowed into the club’s San Mames stadium erupted.
But they failed to capitalise and Depay, who joined Barca on a free transfer from Olympique Lyonnais after impressing coach Ronald Koeman from their time together with the Dutch national team, made them pay.
“We feel like we have unfinished business today, we let the three points escape,” said Athletic goalscorer Martinez.
“And it was our mistake because we let them back in to the game. The players they have up front can make the difference but we deserved a little more.”