Barcelona marched on at the top of La Liga with a 2-0 win against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
Barca took the lead thanks to Lionel Messi's 12th League goal of the season, before Paulinho secured the victory in stoppage time, although their goals masked a poor performance as Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two vital saves along the way.
Andre Gomes started on the right wing for the Catalans and Jordi Alba returned at left-back. A sudden fever, however, prevented Javier Mascherano from traveling to Athletic, the stopper joining Thomas Vermaelen, Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal, Rafinha, Ousmane Dembele and Andres Iniesta on the treatment table.
Neither could Athletic call on key trio Mikel Balenziaga, Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain – all of whom were suffering setbacks – while Yeray Alvarez was still on the mend from his cancer treatment.
Blaugrana boss Ernesto Valverde coached Athletic over two spells, guiding them to the Supercopa in 2015 – their first piece of silverware in 31 years – and becoming the Leones Coach with the most appearances under his belt (306).
Meanwhile, Jose Angel Ziganda – Valverde’s successor – was feeling the heat after just five wins in his first 15 games at the helm. Worse yet, the Basques had beaten Barca only twice in La Liga since 2003, although both of those successes came at home.
Athletic had an early penalty shout when Inigo Lekue’s shot appeared to be blocked by Samuel Umtiti’s hand in the box, but they came even closer through Aritz Aduriz, who had only Ter Stegen to beat, yet his close-range finish was somehow saved by the goalkeeper.
If that wasn’t close enough, Messi danced his way into the penalty area and rounded Kepa Arrizabalaga, but his finish into an empty net clipped the post, albeit from a tight angle.
Nonetheless, Alba’s drilled cross from the left was soon turned in by the Argentine, who angled a finish into the custodian’s bottom-right corner.
The bar then denied Paulinho’s drive from making it 2-0 and Raul Garcia’s header from drawing Athletic level.
Los Leones pushed for an equaliser, Inaki Williams and Aduriz failing with snapshots, but Ter Stegen was forced to push the veteran striker’s header off the line.
Barca regained control of the match once the hosts had run out of steam towards the end, and after Messi had curled a free kick just wide, he laid off Luis Suarez, whose low strike was pushed away by Kepa but only as far as a ready and willing Paulinho.
The result allowed the Blaugrana to remain unbeaten in La Liga and equal their best-ever start to a League campaign, with nine wins and a draw after 10 games.
Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Barcelona
Messi 36, Paulinho 90
Athletic Bilbao: Kepa; Boveda, Laporte, Nunez, Lekue; San Jose (Benat 68), Iturraspe; Williams (Susaeta 83), Raul Garcia, Cordoba; Aduriz
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Paulinho; Messi, Suarez, Gomes (Semedo 83)
Referee: Martinez Munuera