Ivan Rakitic’s second-half strike gave Barcelona a narrow victory at home to Athletic Club in LaLiga on Tuesday night and saw the champions move three points ahead of title rivals Real Madrid.
Barcelona’s best early chances fell to Luis Suarez, who fired straight at Unai Simon from the edge of the area and then drilled a shot wide moments later when he should have hit the target after being set up by Lionel Messi.
But Quique Setien’s side struggled to create chances and had defender Clement Lenglet to thank for a key intervention later in the half when the unmarked Inaki Williams was about to shoot following a cutback from the byline.
Setien sent on Riqui Puig for Arthur 10 minutes into the second half and the young midfielder revolutionised Barca’s play.
The Catalans began to circulate possession quicker and another substitute, Rakitic, finished off a move started by Puig and carried into the area following a Messi run as he pounced on the loose ball and fired past Unai Simon from inside the area after 71 minutes.
Messi curled just wide twice late on and Ansi Fati hit the post from point-blank range, but Barca held on to move three clear of Real Madrid, who can go back to the top by beating Mallorca at home on Wednesday.
Athletic are in 10th after this defeat, six points off the European places with seven games left.