A late Lionel Messi goal was enough to earn Barcelona a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou against Athletic Bilbao despite not being at their best...A late Lionel Messi goal was enough to see La Liga leaders Barcelona defeat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 and return to winning ways despite a spirited performance from the Basque club.
The home team opened the scoring on four minutes through David Villa yet an Andoni Iraola penalty on 50 minutes saw Bilbao draw level. However Lionel Messi scored what was to be the winning goal on 78 minutes.
The result sees the Catalan giants regain their five point lead over rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.
The home side started brightly as they have done so often this season and found themselves a goal up after four minutes. A wonderful chipped Xavi pass found Dani Alves in space on the right side of the Athletic box. The Brazilian wing-back played a neat cut-back to David Villa who made no mistake in directing the ball ball past a helpless Gorka Iraizoz from 12-yards out.
Athletic responded well to going a goal down and came close to an equaliser on 11 minutes. Star striker Fernando Llorente drifted out to the left before clipping a precise cross to Markel Susaeta whose header could only hit the side-netting.
The away team continued to repel Barcelona's constant attacks and came even closer to equalising on 37 minutes. Igor Gabilondo did brilliant to find space on the left wing before curling an inviting ball into the box. The towering Llorente powered a firm header goalwards but Jose Pinto was on hand to make a stunning low save. The former Celta Vigo 'keeper could play a pivotal role in the Catalan club's fortunes this season with the news that Victor Valdes could miss the next six weeks.
Los Leones started the second half with plenty of ambition and were level on 50 minutes after the home side gifted their opponents a soft penalty. Eric Abidal played a tame pass to Sergio Busquets in the Barcelona box but Llorente did well to get a foot to the ball with Busquets clumsily bringing down his international team-mate. With Llorente on the sidelines receiving treatment, Andoni Iraola was handed the task of converted the spot-kick which he did with ease, sending Pinto the wrong way.
The La Liga champions responded fairly well and could have re-taken the lead on 69 minutes. Xavi played a decent through ball to Villa who had the beating of Fernando Amorebieta before seeing his snapshot expertly tipped around the post by Iraizoz.
Despite not being at their best, Barcelona scored their second on 78 minutes. Xavi's wonderful pass found Alves once again on the right. The former Sevilla man drilled a low cross into the feet of Lionel Messi who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from six-yards out for the goal that gave Pep Guardiola's men all three points.
Follow Goal.com on to get the latest soccer news directly. Check out Goal.com's page; be part of the best soccer fan community in the world!