Lionel Messi scored his 12th league goal of the season but Barcelona had to rely on exceptional saves from Marc-Andre ter Stegen as they rode their luck to win 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday and stay four points clear at the top of La Liga.
Valencia posted a record start to a season as they battled to a 2-1 win at lowly Alaves for a sixth consecutive win while Atletico Madrid’s inconsistent run continued as they drew 1-1 at home to Villarreal.
The Catalans lead the standings on 28 points, four clear of Valencia and eight above champions Real Madrid, who visit Girona on Sunday. Atletico are fourth with 20 points.
Barca withstood an early onslaught from their coach Ernesto Valverde’s former side and German international Ter Stegen made two big saves to thwart veteran striker Aritz Aduriz.
With the game still goalless Messi missed a gilt-edged chance after dancing through the Bilbao defence, striking the near post with the goal gaping, but he made amends by breaking the deadlock in the 36th minute.
In the second half Athletic forward Inigo Cordoba whistled a shot over the bar and Aduriz was denied twice more by the commanding Ter Stegen, while Raul Garcia headed against the woodwork for the persistent hosts.
Brazilian midfielder Paulinho added a barely deserved second goal for Barca in stoppage time, tapping a parried shot from Luis Suarez into an empty net as Athletic were outnumbered on the counter-attack.
“We struggled a lot, especially in the second half,” Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets told reporters.
“We were better in the first half and they took more risks after the break so they had more chances but in the end we have continued with our spectacular start and we won at a very difficult ground.”
Simone Zaza opened the scoring for Valencia at Alaves in the 34th minute for Marcelino’s high-flying side to grab his ninth strike of the campaign and score for the sixth game in a row.