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Sparkling Neymar double fires Barca past Bilbao

Neymar came off the bench and produced two exquisite finishes from brilliant Lionel Messi assists to give Barcelona a 2-0 win at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday and maintain their perfect start to La Liga.

Barca dominated at a sun-drenched Nou Camp but were unable to make a breakthrough until Neymar ran clear onto Messi’s threaded pass and dinked the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz for a 79th–minute lead.

Five minutes later, Messi made one of his scintillating runs down the right and clipped the ball across to an unmarked Neymar, who had time to steady himself before sidefooting clinically into the bottom corner.

The Brazil captain is coming back from an ankle injury and new Barca coach Luis Enrique held him back until the 63rd minute, when he replaced teenage Spain forward Munir el Haddadi.

Barca, seeking to improve on last season’s second-placed finish to Atletico Madrid, were the only team to win their opening two games and top the table with a perfect nine points and no goals conceded.

Atletico play at city rivals Real Madrid later on Saturday in a repeat of last season’s Champions League final, which Real won 4-1.

With just over 80,000 fans thronging Barca’s giant stadium, Messi was in the starting lineup having shaken off the muscle injury that prevented him joining up with Argentina for international duty this month.

The Argentina captain was joined in attack by Pedro and Munir, while playmaker Andres Iniesta also returned from injury to captain the side.

The Barca players were wearing the yellow and red of the Catalan flag to mark the region’s national day on Sept. 11 and there was a festival atmosphere as the home side carved out much the better chances in the first half.

Iraizoz pulled off three fine stops to deny Pedro, Ivan Rakitic and Munir, while at the other end Ander Iturraspe’s low shot in the 28th minute was the first on target Barca had conceded in La Liga this season.

The second half was more of the same, with Iraizoz again doing well to deny Jordi Alba before an unmarked Munir, who earlier had the ball in the net but was ruled narrowly offside, headed straight at the keeper when well placed.

Bilbao have not won at the Nou Camp since the 2001-02 season and were looking good for a point until Neymar gave Barca some extra zip in attack.

His connection with Messi did not function as well as hoped last term in his debut season in Spain but on the evidence of Saturday’s game the South American pair are starting to gel in an ominous sign for Barca’s rivals.