Iniesta and Messi goals sink Athletic
Barcelona kept within six points of La Liga pacesetters Real Madrid with a 2-0 home victory over Athletic Bilbao.
With Real Madrid thrashing Osasuna 5-1 earlier in the evening, Barça needed a victory to keep the pressure on Jose Mourinho's men and they duly delivered thanks to goals either side of half-time from Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, who struck from the penalty spot.
Pep Guardiola's side were full value for the win and might have been celebrating an even bigger triumph but for the fine performance of Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz.
For Athletic, the defeat left them with just one point from their last five league matches, but they can take some credit from a battling performance at the Nou Camp despite playing only 48 hours after their stunning 4-2 UEFA Europa League win over Schalke.
Barcelona created a number of chances in the first half, but had to wait until the 40th minute to make the breakthrough. Thiago had an early goal disallowed, while Messi saw his free-kick superbly saved by Iraizoz in the 24th minute.
Then, from the resulting corner, Messi's ball into the far post was turned past Iraizoz by Gerard Pique, but was headed off the line by Jon Aurtenetxe. Iniesta also saw a well-struck drive tipped over by Iraizoz, but it would be the Spanish international who got the opening goal.
Alexis Sanchez did well to steal back possession before feeding Messi, who in turn set Iniesta through on the right-hand side of the area.
Iniesta could have rolled the ball across the face of goal for Sanchez to tap in, but he went for goal himself and found the roof of the net with a thunderous shot. Iraizoz produced another good stop to keep out Adriano's low shot as Barça sought a second before the break.
It was a similar story after the interval with Barcelona continuing to dominate and Iraizoz continuing to impress. The visiting keeper superbly turned away Cristian Tello's shot in the 55th minute, although he was left with no chance two minutes later as Messi made it 2-0 from the penalty spot.
Tello went crashing under pressure from Javi Martinez inside the area, and Messi rolled in his 36th league goal of the campaign from 12 yards. That proved to be the end of the scoring, but not the goal-mouth action with Iraizoz tipping over a deflected Iniesta shot before the unmarked Pique sent a poor header straight at the Athletic keeper from the following corner.
Pique did a much better job at the other end in the 80th minute to prevent Athletic pulling a goal back as he cleared Iker Muniain's shot off the line, before the match finished with Iraizoz back in the action to keep out a Pedro Rodriguez shot.