Ivan Rakitic and Riqui Puig made the difference while Lionel Messi was much improved as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Tuesday.

For a second successive game, Barcelona were well off their best, with the piling minutes visibly taking a toll on them. In fact, it was another match wherein they were largely restricted to efforts from range, with the hosts managing just 4 shots on target. Captain Lionel Messi came close to scoring the 700th goal of his career on the cusp of his 33rd birthday, but it was not to be for him.

Messi, though, did supply the final ball for the winner to bring up his 15th assists of the season in La Liga, as Ivan Rakitic scored from close range with 19 minutes left in regulation time. That goal proved to be enough, as Barcelona eked out a 1-0 win to return to the top of the table ahead of Real Madrid’s match on Wednesday. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Quique Setien’s men.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 6/10

Another clean sheet. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Another clean sheet. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

A largely straightforward outing for ter Stegen, who was only troubled on a couple of occasions. The first was when he scooped out the ball just outside the goalline in an awkward position while the other was when he nearly allowed Raul Garcia a free header on goal, only for the Athletic Bilbao man to miss the target. Otherwise, accurate with the ball at his feet, misplacing just 4 passes.

Nelson Semedo: 7/10

With Sergi Roberto still on the sidelines, Semedo had the chance to continue making an impression and perhaps cement his place in the side. The Portuguese full-back did just that, producing another confident display on the right flank. A constant outlet down the right flank, he played in 2 accurate long balls in addition to completing 90 percent of his passes. Solid as ever off the ball.

Gerard Pique: 8/10

Pique has been largely solid since the resumption of La Liga a couple of weeks ago. On Tuesday, he continued that run, neutralising the Bilbao attack almost entirely. In an all round performance, the veteran Barcelona defender won 7 duels, made 2 interceptions, 3 clearances while completing 93 percent of his passes. Gave an injury scare late on, but completed the game.

Clement Lenglet: 8/10

Starting another game at the heart of the Barcelona defence alongside Pique, Lenglet enjoyed a comfortable evening, making the Barcelona backline nearly impregnable. The Frenchman had similar defensive stats to his partner, but had more touches on the ball and was vital during the build-up play with his precise passes and 5 accurate long balls.

Jordi Alba: 7.5/10

Jordi Alba put up a great performance for Barcelona. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Jordi Alba put up a great performance for Barcelona. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Alba, like Semedo on the opposite flank, was a constant threat down his wing, playing in a number of dangerous crosses and long balls to bypass a stubborn Bilbao defence. In fact, his impact can be outlined by the fact that the Spanish international had the most touches on the night. Also made 1 key pass. Barely troubled while defending, Alba cut out the threat of the Bilbao attack smartly.

Arturo Vidal: 7/10

In the starting lineup for a second successive game, Vidal was an important figure for Barcelona in the middle of the park. The Chilean’s work-rate and energy helped the hosts retain the ball high up the pitch, as he won 5 duels and made a couple of interceptions. Accurate while playing the passes too (57/63 completed), which was pleasantly surprising. Somehow denied late on by Unai Simon.

Sergio Busquets: 6/10

A reasonably solid effort by Busquets, but it was clear that he continued to grow tired due to the fixture pile-up. He will now get a well deserved break this weekend, after being booked on the night which saw him incur a suspension. As for his performance, he was his typical industrious self, while also playing 1 key pass.

Arthur: 6/10

As rumours of an impending exit continue to intensify, this was Arthur’s chance to make a point. But, the Brazilian missed another opportunity to impress, choosing to play squared passes for the most part while also losing the ball 9 times. Could and should be replaced by the impressive Riqui Puig this weekend against Celta Vigo.

Lionel Messi: 7/10

It was yet another evening wherein it became clear that Messi is in need of some rest. Much like his outing against Sevilla, the Barcelona captain was some way off his best, misplacing quite a few passes.

Still, he was much improved against Bilbao and was easily the biggest threat for Barcelona, making 5 key passes. One of those included the one that led to Ivan Rakitic’s match-winning goal, his 250th assist in Barcelona colours. That meant that for the fifth time in his career, Messi has at least 15 goals and assists each in a single La Liga season. Still searching for his 700th career goal.

Luis Suarez: 6/10

Suarez seems to have regained full fitness, having completed over 80 minutes of action for a second successive game. However, the veteran Uruguayan striker is still not fully up to speed and is lacking the rhythm, although his typical mazy runs were still on show against Bilbao and he created one big chance as well.

Antoine Griezmann: 6/10

Shunted out to the left flank for the umpteenth time this season, Griezmann was an unhappy customer in a position he does not like playing in. The Frenchman managed just one shot all game and completed just 76 percent of his passes. Worked hard off the ball, though, winning 9 duels while also making 2 successful tackles. Needs to be played centrally.

SUBSTITUTES

Riqui Puig: 8/10

Riqui Puig made a great impression (Photo by Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)

Riqui Puig made a great impression (Photo by Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)

Puig was the first substitution made by Setien and he was an instant upgrade on Arthur. Full of confidence, the youngster roamed across the pitch, looking to connect with Suarez and Messi.

In his 40 minutes on the pitch, Puig was the reason for kicking Barcelona into life. Had 39 touches, completed 27/32 passes attempted while also playing in 1 key pass. High time he received a start.

Ivan Rakitic: 8/10

Introduced in place of Busquets, Rakitic played as the deepest of the three midfielders, a role he is likely to play against Celta Vigo as well. Rakitic, though, made the difference in the final third, being in the right place at the right time to score the winner from Messi’s top class pass.

Ansu Fati: 7/10

On for Griezmann, Fati was a more natural fit on the left flank and looked purposeful on his forays with the ball. The teenage prodigy often had the Bilbao defenders back-pedaling, with one dribble tremendously taking 2 players out in an instant. Also completed each of his 11 passes and lost the ball just 3 times. Like Puig, he should be trusted to start the next game.

Martin Braithwaite: N/A

A late introduction, Braithwaite helped see the game out.

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