2016/2017 Spanish Primera División
  • Paco Alcácer (18')
  • Lionel Messi (40')
  • Aleix Vidal (67')

Lionel Messi's free kick helps Barcelona cruise to victory

Barcelona closed the gap on La Liga leaders Real Madrid to just a point with a 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou.

Paco Alcacer opened the scoring on 18 minutes with his first league goal for the club and after the visitors had failed to make the most of their chances, Lionel Messi's free kick squirmed past Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz five minutes before half-time.

Defender Aleix Vidal added a third midway through the second half for Luis Enrique's side, who have now played two matches more than Real Madrid.

The leaders are due to meet Celta Vigo on Sunday evening, but that fixture could yet be postponed for safety reasons after the bad weather which swept across northern Spain reportedly left the Balaidos stadium roof unsafe.

Barcelona coach Enrique mixed up his starting XI, with Luis Suarez rested and Alcacer coming into the frontline.

Bilbao, who were unbeaten in their prevous five league games, saw defender Yeray Alvarez return to the team having recently been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Neymar's booking in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg victory over Atletico Mardid meant he would miss next week's return at the Camp Nou, and the Brazilian dragged an early chance wide.

The visitors, though, were within inches of taking a shock lead when Raul Garcia's angled shot was tipped onto the inside of the post by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Inaki Williams then headed over from 10 yards, and it proved a costly miss as Barcelona swept into the lead on 18 minutes.

Neymar darted into the left side of the penalty area before cutting the ball back to Alcacer, who swept a first-time shot past Gorka Iraizoz inside the near post for a first league goal since his summer move from Valencia.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was caught in possession on the edge of his own penalty area and hauled down Raul Garcia as the forward muscled clear, but Ander Iturraspe clipped the resulting free kick over the crossbar.

After riding more pressure from Bilbao, which saw both Garcia and Williams test Ter Stegen, the hosts were gifted a second goal five minutes before the break.

Messi whipped in a free kick from the right up over the two-man wall and towards the near post, where Iraizoz somehow managed to allow it through his limp wrists and into the back of the net.

Neymar was close to adding a third when he powered into the left side of the penalty area and clipped a low shot just wide.

Javier Mascherano came on for Pique at the start of the second half, which continued with Barcelona on the front foot as Rafinha headed wide after being picked out by Messi at the far post.

The Brazilian had to go off in the 54th minute having collided with goalkeeper Ter Stegen and being left with a cut head, with Ivan Rakitic coming on.

With Bilbao looking unlikely to muster a recovery, and perhaps with one eye on Tuesday night's cup tie, Enrique decided to give Messi a rest, bringing on Sergi Roberto.

Barcelona added a third on 67 minutes when full-back Aleix Vidal slotted in an angled drive.

Iraizoz saved from Neymar as the home side coasted to a seventh victory from eight matches.

Spanish Primera División Standings

1 Real Madrid 21 +26 46
2 Barcelona 21 +25 43
3 Sevilla FC 21 +7 38
4 Getafe 21 +10 36
5 Atletico Madrid 21 +8 36
6 Real Sociedad 21 +8 34
7 Valencia 21 +3 34
8 Villarreal 21 +7 31
9 Athletic Bilbao 21 +7 31
10 Osasuna 21 +3 28
11 Granada 21 -3 27
12 Real Betis 21 -4 27
13 Levante 21 -6 26
14 Alavés 21 -9 23
15 Eibar 21 -9 23
16 Real Valladolid 21 -7 22
17 Mallorca 21 -15 18
18 Celta Vigo 21 -13 17
19 Leganes 21 -17 15
20 Espanyol 21 -21 15