MADRID, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona took their chances, while Athletic Club Bilbao failed to take theirs as the Catalan side closed the gap at the top of the Liga Santander to one point with a 3-0 win over the Basques.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique rested key players such as Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto ahead of next Tuesday's King's Cup semi-final return leg, where Barca defend a 2-1 advantage to Atletico Madrid.
Athletic welcomed back Yeray Alvarez just 46 days after an operation to remove a testicular tumor and looked to pressure Barca high up the field and force defensive errors as Betis had done the week before.
The pressure told in the 3rd minute when Inaki Williams forced an error from Pique and Raul Garcia's shot hit the post after a touch from Ter Stegen.
Williams then headed wide when well placed, but it was Barca who opened the scoring. Neymar found space down the left and Paco Alcacer lost his marker before scoring with a first time finish for his first league goal with the club.
Barca were forced onto the back foot by the visitors, who refused to let their heads drop and their pressure saw Raul Garcia and Williams force further save from the Barca keeper.
However, five minutes from halftime a bad error from Gorka Iraizoz allowed Messi to double Barca's lead as the Athletic keeper allowed the Argentinean's free kick to sneak home from a narrow angle.
The second half had not been underway for long when Rafinha was forced out of the game after a collision with Ter Stegen left him with a nasty cut on his forehead.
Aleix Vidal made it 3-0 with a left foot shot after a counter-attack after 65 minutes and that goal served to kill off the game with Luis Enrique opting to give a well-earned rest to Messi ahead of Tuesday's Cup tie.