Athletic Club 1-0 on Tuesday night at the Camp Nou.
After being overtaken by Real Madrid at the top of the table over the weekend, Barcelona were desperate to return to the win column, but it wasn’t easy against an Athletic side very resolute in defence.
Muted performances going forward from Arthur and Antoine Griezmann did little to convince, but the entrance of youngsters Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati sparked the home side’s attack to yield the Rakitic goal.
Barcelona boss Quique Setien’s starting XI included the heralded return of Barcelona’s vaunted MSG trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Griezmann.
Barcelona came up with a much higher tempo than in their previous encounters, but, with Inaki Williams up top for the Basques, Barcelona had to be wary of the counter attack when denied by the Athletic defence.
A deep cross from Unai Nunez and a wayward header from Yeray also served as warnings that Barcelona were in for a battle on the night.
The first half was being played end to end and seconds after Inigo Lekue dropped Gerard Pique on his backside before crossing to Williams, who scuffed his shot, Barcelona almost scored when Suarez’s cutback pass barely failed to reach Arturo Vidal with the goalmouth gaping wide open.
Barcelona’s intensity started to wane and, with it, their precision when they reached the final third, making for a third straight scoreless half for the Catalan side.
Setien needed someone to help pick the Athletic lock so Puig was summoned off the bench to replace Arthur, followed minutes later by Rakitic and Fati for Sergio Busquets and Griezmann respectively.
Barcelona’s frustration was rising and Messi was fortunate to not see red after stepping on Yeray, but then some good fortune went their way and it resulted in a 1-0 lead.
A mad scramble in the area with Messi trying to win the ball back saw the ball take a deflection off the leg of an Athletic defender and into the path of the charging Rakitic, who did not hesitate to fire into goal.
With the goal in their pocket, Barcelona sought a second to kill off the game and almost had it through a bullet from Messi that flashed just wide.
Late in stoppage time both Vidal and Fati were presented with gilt-edged chances, but Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon was unwavering.
In the end though, a second goal was unneeded, as Barcelona nailed down the triumph to temporarily re-take first place in LaLiga Santander.