FC Barcelona continued its season-long trend of earning narrow wins in La Liga against Athletic Bilbao to keep the title race under their control away from home.
Raphinha scored the only goal of the game as the visitors restored their 9-point lead at the top of the table.
Barcelona’s recent struggles were highlighted early when Nico and Inaki Williams tested their defence in the opening stages before Alex Berenguer almost put his side ahead by intercepting a poor backpass from Jules Kounde but failing to find the target in the 24th minute.
The Catalans also had Marc-Andre ter Stegen to thank once again for bailing them out when their defences failed. The German denied Inaki Williams a surefire goal from close range to keep his side on level terms.
Just when Athletic Bilbao were starting to enjoy their dominating spell, Barcelona struck through Raphinha in a cruel twist of fate.
Sergio Busquets found the Brazilian making a run past the defence before the winger unleashed a vicious shot past Julen Agirrezabala just before halftime.
The home continued their fight in the second half, creating several chances but failing to find an equaliser until the 88th minute when Inaki Williams finally beat Ter Stegen only for his goal to be ruled out for a handball in the buildup.
The outraged hosts laid siege to Barca’s goal but Ter Stegen again denied Yuri Berchiche a certain goal before Marcos Alonso headed off the line to stop Oier Zarraga’s shot from the rebound as Barcelona hung on for the win.
Xavi’s men sit atop the La Liga table with 65 points from 25 games with Real in second with 56 from as many games.