It was Lionel Messi’s 350th league game for the club but the captain had a quiet night by his standards as Barcelona were made to work hard for their second win of the season.
Barca could have been ahead on five minutes when Luis Suarez had the ball in the net but the flag was up for offside. Athletic were pressing high and upsetting Barcelona’s attempts to play out from the back. Inaki Williams was lively down the Bilbao right and Samuel Umtiti was booked for handball as he cut out one through ball.
Marc Andre ter Stegen was then played into an awkward position by Umitti and played the ball straight out to Benat who should have done better than blast his shot straight back at the goalkeeper.
In driving rain Athletic could be more than satisfied with their first 20 minute’s work but on 21 minutes they were behind.
Suarez swivelled away from Eneko Boveda and laid the ball off to Arda Turan. He crossed from the left and Rakitic, who had timed his run perfectly, headed past Gorka Iraizoz for 1-0.
The goal calmed Barcelona down although both Sergio Busquets and Suarez were booked for protesting when referee Mateu Lahoz appeared to give a free-kick for a non-existent foul when he had his back to play. Judging from the way Busquets continued his protests at half time with the linesman it seemed that it had been the referee’s assistant who had made the decision.
Barcelona could have extended their lead but Umtiti and Denis Suarez were both denied before Turan shot into the side netting instead of squaring to Suarez. Athletic had their chances too with Ter Stegen saving again from Aritz Aduriz.
Luis Suarez teed up Messi for Barca’s first chance of the second half but he bent the shot just wide. Then Sergio Roberto burst forward and released Rakitic but when the Croatian crossed from the right, Luis Suarez got his volley all wrong and the shot went well wide.
Athletic brought on Raul Garcia and his shot on 65 minutes went just wide of Ter Stegen’s post. A Williams shot then dropped straight into the German keeper’s hands as Athletic upped the tempo.
With 20 minutes left Barca should have scored their second when Turan crossed for Luis Suarez; he applied the brakes and cleverly played the ball back to Messi who slipped as he shot and sent the ball high over Iraizoz’s bar.
Athletic Bilbao had run themselves into the ground for 80 minutes and had little left to give as the clock ticked down. When another fine run down the right from the outstanding Sergio Roberto ended with a chance for Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan did well to wriggle into space for the shot but his effort curled wide and by the time he got the shot away Turan was better placed and could have rolled the ball in if he had been passed to.
It made for a nervous last five minutes as the home side found the oxygen for one more push. Substitute Iker Munian exaggerated a clash with Rakitic in the area in the vain hope of a late penalty but the favourable decision never came and the Croatian’s goal had given Barca all three points.