La Liga, San Mames - Athletic Bilbao 0 Barcelona 2 (Messi 36', Paulinho 90')
Lionel Messi and Paulinho gave Barcelona a hard-fought 2-0 win over Athletic Club, giving the Catalans a commanding four-point lead at the top of the Liga table.
San Mames is traditionally a difficult play for Barca to visit, and it proved to be the case again, despite Athletic’s recent poor form. The hosts went toe-to-toe with the league pacesetters, but Messi proved the difference, scoring the opener and dictating things throughout for the visitors.
Athletic will reflect on missed opportunities by Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia, but ultimately, Barcelona showed their superior quality, with Messi sweeping home what proved to be the winner in the first half, getting on the end of an exceptional Jordi Alba cut back from the byline. And Paulinho added a second late on as Barca caught out the hosts on the counter attack.
The result puts Barcelona four points clear of Valencia at the top of La Liga, with Atletico Madrid held to a draw by Villarreal earlier in the day and Real Madrid set to face Girona on Sunday afternoon. This was a test for Valverde and his team, and they passed.
TALKING POINT - Is it time for Ernesto Valverde to drop Luis Suarez?
With every passing week, Luis Suarez’s slump becomes more concerning for Barcelona. This has been a dismal season for the Uruguayan striker so far (at least from a personal point of view) and on this basis, nothing is improving. What’s more, he seems to be trying too hard. So is it time for Valverde to drop Suarez, allowing him to rediscover his form again in his own time? Something needs to change, because what he’s currently trying isn’t working.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Cristiano Ronaldo might have named ‘The Best’ by FIFA during the week, but in this form it’s difficult to look past Messi as the greatest player in the game right now. This was yet another demonstration of the Argentine at his best. Not many around Barcelona talk about Neymar any more.That is largely down to the sensational form of Messi over the early part of the season. He’s carrying the Catalans.
Athletic Bilbao - Kepa 6, Boveda 5, Nunez 6, Laporte 5, Lekue 6, San Jose 5, Iturraspe 5, Williams 7, Garcia 6, Cordoba 6, Aduriz 7. Subs - Susaeta 5, Benat 5.
Barcelona - Ter Stegen 8, Roberto 6, Pique 6, Umtiti 5, Alba 7, Busquets 5, Rakitic 6, Paulinho 7, Messi 8, Suarez 5, Gomes 5. Subs - Semedo 5.
17’ BIG SAVE FROM TER STEGEN! That could have been the opener. Aduriz gets on the end of a cross into the area, powering a header towards goal, but the Barca keeper makes the save.
19’ WHAT A SAVE! That's easily the best chance of the match so far. Aduriz was played clean through on goal, but Ter Stegen waited and waited and made the diving save to deny the striker.
22’ HOW DIDN'T MESSI SCORE?! Wow, what a miss. Excellent play from Barcelona sees Messi played through on goal. He rounds the goalkeeper but somehow hits the outside of the post and wide.
36’ GOAL! Athletic Club 0 Barcelona 1: Wonderful goal from Barcelona and Messi! They have the opener! Alba chases a ball to the byline, cutting it back for Messi to sweep home a low finish. Great goal by the Catalans.
39’ OFF THE CROSSBAR! Yikes. That should have been Barcelona's second of the night. Messi played the ball back to Paulinho, who rattled his shot against the woodwork from about eight yards out.
49’ GARCIA HITS THE BAR! That was inches away from being the equaliser for Athletic Bilbao, with Garcia heading off the bar from a corner kick. Ter Stegen wasn't near that at all.
86’ ADURIZ HEADER SAVED! The Athletic Bilbao striker gets to the near post and directs a header towards goal, but Ter Stegen was alert to the danger and makes the save to deny him.
93’ GOAL! Athletic Club 0 Barcelona 2: That's a result of Athletic's pressing. Barcelona caught them out on the break, with Suarez's saved shot falling into the path of Paulinho, who has the simple tap in from close range.
Barcelona have now hit the woodwork nine times this season, three more times than any other La Liga side.
Jordi Alba-Lionel Messi is the most common assist-to-scorer combo in La Liga this season (four).