Messi maintains under-par Barca's lead over Valencia
Madrid: Barcelona recorded their best ever start to a La Liga season as coach Ernesto Valverde enjoyed a successful return to Athletic Bilbao thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Paulinho in a 2-0 win.
Valverde has now overseen 12 wins and a draw from his first 13 La Liga and Champions League matches as Barca reestablished their four-point lead at the top of the table over Valencia, who beat Alaves 2-1 earlier on Saturday.
The Catalan giants also move eight points clear of rivals Real Madrid, who are in action on Sunday amidst a backdrop of political turmoil as they travel to Catalonia to take on Girona.
"The truth is we struggled a lot, especially in the second-half," Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets told Movistar TV.
"They had chances to equalise, but with a counter-attack at the end we scored the second which leaves us with this spectacular start."
Valverde left Bilbao in the summer and his impact has been felt just as much in Bilbao as it has in Barcelona -- Athletic have now one just one of their last 12 matches in all competitions.
"Athletic pressed us hard in the second-half and made it difficult," said Valverde.
"We gave the ball away a number of times and, without creating too many clear-cut chances, Athletic are always a threat when the ball is bouncing around the area."
The hosts started the brighter and only a stunning save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen prevented Aritz Aduriz from slotting Athletic in front on 19 minutes.
Barca, and Messi in particular, grew into the game as the half wore on and the Argentine should have opened the scoring when he hit the woodwork for already the 10th time this season with the goal at his mercy from Luis
Messi was at the heart of another flowing team move to break the deadlock eight minutes before half-time. He exchanged one-twos with Paulinho and Jordi Alba before sweeping home the left-back's low cross.
Paulinho should have extended the visitors' advantage when he smacked the crossbar moments later, but an under-par Barca had to withstand plenty of Athletic pressure after the break.
Raul Garcia's header also hit the woodwork, while Ter Stegen produced another stunning stop from Aduriz five minutes from time.
But Barca held out to record a ninth clean sheet in their last 13 games, and added a second deep into stoppage time when Paulinho tapped home the rebound after Kepa Arrizabalaga had parried Suarez's first effort.
After two seasons in the doldrums, Valencia's stunning revival under Marcelino Garcia Toral continued as they remain Barca's closest challengers with victory in Vitoria.
Simone Zaza blasted Valencia into the lead 10 minutes before half-time from Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira's cut-back for his ninth goal of the season.