Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Barcelona: Lionel Messi and Paulinho seal win
By Ben Grounds
Last Updated: 28/10/17 11:27pm
Barcelona reclaimed their four-point lead over Valencia at the top of La Liga after beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at the San Mames Stadium.
Lionel Messi (36) opened the scoring by starting and finishing a sweeping move, but Bilbao were the better side in the second period before Paulinho wrapped up the victory in the second minute of stoppage time.
Raul Garcia had earlier struck the crossbar with a header while Marc-Andre Ter Stegen denied Aritz Aduriz with a near post header to preserve Barca's clean sheet.
The result leaves the hosts just five points adrift of the relegation zone while Barcelona have now gone 17 domestic league games unbeaten, winning 16 of them as Real Madrid look to close the gap by beating Girona on Sunday.
Athletic Bilbao: Arrizabalaga (7), Boveda, Laporte (8), Nunez (9), San Jose (6), Iturraspe (6), Williams (6), Lekue (6), Garcia (7), Cordoba (6), Aduriz (6)
Subs: Bernat (6), Susaeta (6)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen (7), Pique (6), Alba (7), Roberto (7), Umtiti (8), Sergio Busquets (7), Andre Gomes (6), Rakitic (6), Paulinho (7), Messi (8), Suarez (7)
Subs: Semedo (6)
Man of the match: Unai Nunez (Athletic Bilbao)
Ernesto Valverde, who took charge of 306 matches across two spells at Athletic, welcomed Messi and Luis Suarez back to his side after they were both rested during the Copa Del Rey win during midweek.
But it was Bilbao who should have gone in front after a flurry of chances which saw Aduriz denied his ninth goal of the season by Ter Stegen when put clean through but the veteran striker's shot was too close to the keeper.
Barcelona responded with Messi darting through the centre of the Bilbao defence to run onto Suarez's through-ball, but the Argentine somehow struck the post having shifted the ball to side of keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The club's talisman was not to be denied, however, as he picked himself up to duly score his 37th La Liga goal of 2017 - 17 more than any other player.
Ander Iturraspe and Iñigo Lekue were recalled for the hosts. Barcelona made four changes to the side which beat Malaga in their last La Liga encounter with Javier Mascherano, Lucas Digne, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Deulofeu replaced by Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Andre Gomes and Paulinho.
The prolific forward played a quick one-two with Paulinho before firing the ball out wide to Jordi Alba. The Spaniard knew precisely where Messi would be with his cut-back as he sliced through the Bilbao defence to fire his shot low into the net.
Jose Angel Ziganda's side enjoyed more possession in the second half as Barcelona were pinned back, but the final ball often deserted the hosts.
Barcelona still carried a threat on the break and Suarez was denied a certain goal by a last-ditch block by the impressive Unai Núñez.
Bilbao were restricted to two headers from corners as after Garcia saw his far-post header glance off the crossbar, Aduriz was denied low down by Ter Stegen.
With Bilbao committing more bodies forward, Barcelona wrapped up the win on the counter-attack as after Kepa had kept out Suarez's initial shot, Paulinho was on hand for a simple tap-in to cap a thoroughly professional performance from the league leaders.
Man of the match - Unai Nunez
While on the losing team, Nunez looks set to have a very bright future in the game after another very impressive display alongside his centre-half partner Aymeric Laporte. Nunez is 20 years old, while Laporte is still only 23, and both were instrumental in restricting Barcelona to very few chances.
Nunez produced several vital interceptions and took a knock to the head from Suarez for his troubles, but the defender bravely fought on for his side. Several European clubs have been looking at Laporte, but on this showing, he is not the only Bilbao defender who will be on the radar of some of the continent's elite.
Athletic Bilbao are in Europa League action at home to Ostersund on Thursday before a trip to face Celta Vigo next Sunday. Barcelona now prepare to face Olympiacos in the Champions League on Tuesday night before hosting Sevilla in La Liga next Saturday.
Play Super 6
Simply predict six correct scores to win the £250k jackpot. Enter your selections for free here.