Leo Messi had a great chance to open the scoring in the first five minutes following a wonderful through ball from Antoine Griezmann, however, Unai Simón was equal to the chance. The roles were reversed a couple of minutes later as the Frenchman saw a shot tipped over.
Messi again went close just before the quarter hour as Barça continued to make all of the running in the match, before curling home a glorious direct free-kick on 19 minutes for his 650th goal for the club. It was no more than the blaugranes deserved.
Marc-André ter Stegen wasn’t called into action until a few minutes afterwards, the German making a smart save from Athletic’s Yeray in the first real attack of note from the visitors.
Barça’s super pressing game and immaculate use of every blade of the Camp Nou pitch ensured that Athletic’s forays were rare, and for the rest of the first 45, much of the action took place in a congested midfield.
The closest anyone came to scoring coming was with the last play of the half as Ousmane Dembélé fired over when well placed.
Athletic were more purposeful at the start of the second-half with a Jordi Alba own goal bringing them level on 49. Los Leones were then indebted to their keeper just before the hour mark as he made a full-length save from a bullet Miralem Pjanić header.
As Barça picked up the pace again, Athletic had to be content with playing on the counter attack once more, and a real game of cat and mouse began to develop as the match moved into its final 20 minutes.
Sergi Roberto came on for his first appearance in 70 days on 66, and just eight minutes later an incisive move culminated with a magnificent finish from Griezmann after Oscar Mingueza’s pinpoint cross.
Both teams continued to look for more goals in what turned out to be a frantic finish to the game. Ronald Koeman’s well-timed late substitutions, which included reverting to three centre-backs, took the sting out of the match, with Alba almost redeeming himself deep into in injury time.