MADRID • Barcelona recorded their best start to a LaLiga season as Ernesto Valverde enjoyed a successful return to Athletic Bilbao after goals from Lionel Messi and Paulinho in a 2-0 win on Saturday.
The Barcelona manager has overseen 12 wins and a draw from his first 13 LaLiga and Champions League matches as Barca re-established their four-point lead at the top of the table over Valencia, who beat Alaves 2-1 earlier on Saturday.
"The truth is, we struggled a lot," 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 Athletic have won just one of their last 12 matches in all competitions.
"It was stranger than I thought it would be," the 53-year-old said of sitting on the visiting bench.
"This is a classic match in LaLiga. I have experienced it from the Athletic side and apart from one year we lost 2-5 here (2015), we always made Barca suffer. I thought Athletic played very well, with the same spirit they always play with."
The hosts started strongly and only a stunning save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen prevented Aritz Aduriz from slotting Athletic in front on 19 minutes.
Messi should have opened the scoring when he hit the woodwork for the 10th time this season with the goal at his mercy. But he scored eight minutes before half-time and Paulinho added a second in stoppage time when he tapped home the rebound after Kepa Arrizabalaga had parried Luis Suarez's effort.
Earlier, Raul Garcia's header also hit the woodwork, while ter Stegen produced another stunning stop from Aduriz to ensure Barca recorded a ninth clean sheet in their last 13 games.
"The bar is very high at Barcelona," added Valverde. "We always want to dominate the game, to create chances and play football that people love... But defensively, we are very sound and that is something we have tried to improve."