Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 as Ivan Rakitic scored the only goal to help his side reclaim the provisionary top spot of La Liga standings.

Rakitic came in as a substitute before latching onto Lionel Messi's pass to net the ball in the 71st minute.

Tuesday night was supposed to be Messi's night. His fans wanted to see him score on the eve of his 33rd birthday. However, the Barcelona captain had to stay content with a late winner assist, which marked his 15th assist in this season's La Liga.

Right now, Messi is sitting one short of 700 career goals. In his last 11 appearances against Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou, Messi had scored 10 times and assisted four times.

The Argentine behemoth could have achieved the milestone as he came close to scoring twice during the closing stages of Tuesday's match. The six-time ballon d'Or winner missed the target from Ansu Fati's pass. However, he still helped his club win the match as he helped Rakitic score his first goal of this season.

Lionel Messi injured against Villarreal
Lionel Messi AFP / LLUIS GENE

Barcelona was not even near their best form although they did just enough to secure this vital victory. Previously this season, mid-table Athletic had beaten Barcelona twice, once in La Liga's opening day and another time in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

But this time, they failed to beat Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. As BBC reports, the visitors couldn't hit a single shot on target.

Barcelona now stands on top of the Spanish league table with 68 points. They are currently three points ahead of arch-rivals Real Madrid. However, Los Blancos have played one match less than the Catalans. If the Madrid side ends up winning against Mallorca on Wednesday, they will reclaim their top spot.

Even if Barca wins all their upcoming matches in the league, they would finish the season on the second spot if Real Madrid also wins all their games. This is because of Madrid's superior head-to-head record against Barcelona, Real Madrid will eventually lift a record 34th La Liga title if both clubs finish this year's campaign with the same number of points.

Barcelona can now only hope that their rivals drop points in their upcoming games. The Catalans must also ensure that they win all their remaining games to stand a chance.