Lionel Messi on target again as Barcelona seal routine win over Athletic Bilbao
Barcelona 2 Athletic Bilbao 0.
Lionel Messi scored for the sixth consecutive game as Barcelona tightened their grip in the title race with a 2-0 LaLiga win over Athletic Bilbao.
Messi took his tally for the season to 38 with a fine finish from the edge of the penalty area.
Paco Alcacer had already given the hosts the lead at the Nou Camp, and the leaders went on to canter to a routine victory against a Bilbao side grateful they were not more soundly beaten.
Barca were missing Luis Suarez through suspension but the Uruguay striker’s absence did not seem to affect them too much.
They took the lead after only eight minutes, with Messi predictably at the heart of the move.
The Argentina forward, fresh from his two goals in the midweek Champions League win over Chelsea, danced his way into the area before laying the ball off to Jordi Alba.
Alba reached the byline before cutting the ball back to Alcacer, who was left with a simple side-foot finish past Bilbao keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Philippe Coutinho was inches from doubling the hosts’ lead moments later when he met another Alba cut-back with a volley which crashed back off the crossbar.
Messi had already had a couple of sighters when he got on the scoresheet on the half-hour mark.
Ousmane Dembele picked out his strike partner, who had been left unmarked lurking on the edge of the penalty area, and Messi punished the visitors by drilling the ball unerringly into the bottom corner.
Coutinho was denied by the woodwork again before half-time when his deft lob grazed the crossbar.
The second half was played at almost a testimonial pace with Barcelona content to knock the ball around at their leisure.
A Mexican wave even broke out 10 minutes from the end as the home fans decided to amuse themselves.
Barca seemed to react to the crowd urging them forward and Messi tried his luck from the edge of the box again but this time Arrizabalaga was able to hold his deflected effort.
Nevertheless Barca were never in danger of losing their unbeaten record this season as boss Ernesto Valverde masterminded a comfortable victory against his former club.