Barcelona maintained their four-point lead at the top of the La Liga table as they beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at San Mames on Saturday.

Ernesto Valverde came up against his beloved former club on the night, having taken charge of 306 matches of the Basque side over two spells before joining Barcelona this summer, and ended up condemning them into further misery.

The hosts started the match the brighter of the two sides though, but their wastefulness would come back to haunt them as they failed to convert a number of chances. Barcelona, though, took advantage of the scores being level as Lionel Messi scored his 16th goal of the season after calmly converting from Jordi Alba’s cut-back.

Athletic Bilbao continued to remain the dominant side and enjoyed the bulk of the possession for most of the remainder of the game. But, it was Barcelona who were clinical and decisive yet again when Paulinho scored his third league goal for the club, tapping the ball in after Luis Suarez’s shot was saved by Kepa.

The win ensured Barcelona maintained their four-point advantage over Valencia at the top of the table. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men after a crucial, hard-fought win on Saturday.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 9/10

In one of his best performances in a Barcelona shirt, ter Stegen was at his best to keep his net unruffled, making two brilliant saves from Aritz Aduriz in either half, in addition to a few more simpler knocks. A clean sheet well earned from a player who has been the unsung hero for Barcelona this season.

Sergi Roberto: 7/10

Preferred ahead of Semedo once again at right-back, Roberto looked a tad bit uncertain at times on the night. Moving forward though, he showed real quality, passing the ball well while also making a few driving runs. He was much improved when he moved into midfield, and was involved in the build up to Paulinh0’s goal as well.

Gerard Pique: 5/10

The poor start to the season continued for Pique as he struggled for large parts of the game against Aduriz, looking extremely uncomfortable to match the physicality of the veteran striker. He did look better as the game wore on, but he looked far from being assured at the back.

With Javier Mascherano turning in consistent performances whenever given an opportunity, the Spain international might just have to look over his shoulders.

Samuel Umtiti: 8/10

While his partner at the heart of defence had another night to forget, Umtiti was impressively solid yet again. His reading of the game was superb, while he also built up play from the back, and the young Frenchman ticked all the right boxes for the most part on the night.

Jordi Alba: 7/10

Returning from a ten-day long injury layoff, Alba played catchup at the beginning of the game, but slowly grew into it as it progressed. He made a lot of impact in the final third as well, and his understanding with Messi was a delight as evidenced by his assist for the opening goal – his fourth of the season.

Andre Gomes: 5/10

Another opportunity afforded, another night when Andre Gomes came up short. The Portuguese midfielder offered precious little, either in providing stability in midfield, or while moving up in the final third. His time at Barcelona seems to be coming to an end, and with performances like these, there’s no surprise why.

Sergio Busquets: 8/10

Solid, dependable and reliable. It was a typical no-nonsense Busquets performance as he read the game well, and restricted the Athletic Bilbao attack to a great extent. Assured in possession as well, he combined well with Umtiti to set up plays from deep.

Paulinho: 7.5/10

The Brazilian continues to grow in stature with each passing game, and Saturday’s performance went a long way in showing just how much he brings to the side. His physical presence adds dynamism in the middle of the park, while his driving runs often bear results.

The Brazilian should have scored in the first half when a rather poor finish rattled the upright, but he made no mistake to score from a simple tap-in to put the result to bed in the second half. An important player this season.

Ivan Rakitic: 6/10

Another player who hasn’t really been able to play at a consistently high level this season, Rakitic was disappointing yet again on Saturday. While he did put in a lot of effort off the ball, the Croat was often wasteful in possession and struggled to create anything of note.

Lionel Messi: 8/10

In a class of his own up front, Lionel Messi was sublime in the first-half even as Bilbao dominated the proceedings for the most part. After coming close to scoring in the early stages, Messi made no mistake, opening the scoring in the 36th minute as he started and finished a magnificent move.

The Argentine continued creating the bulk of the chances for his side, and was at the heart of the move for the second goal as well, when Paulinho tapped the ball into an open net. Up to 16 goals for the season now, and there really seems to be no one catching him at the moment.

Luis Suarez: 7/10

A much improved performance from the Uruguayan, who has looked a pale shadow of himself at the start of the season. Tireless of the ball but underwhelming in possession, his profligacy in front of goal needs to come to an end, and soon.

SUBSTITUTES

Nelson Semedo: N/A

On the field for the last few minutes of the game, Semedo helped see out the match.

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