Barcelona dropped two points against Athletic Bilbao but left San Mames feeling relieved because without two brilliant saves from Marc Andre ter Stegen they would have been heading home with nothing.
The draw leaves them six points clear of Real Madrid who were the winners from the weekend leapfrogging Atletico and closing in slightly on the league leaders.
Barcelona were below-par in the first half, lacking width, penetration and their usual capacity to keep possession.
Athletic Bilbao XI: Herrerín, Balenziaga, De Marcos, Yuri, Íñigo Martínez, Yeray Álvarez, Raúl García, Susaeta, Beñat, Dani García, Williams.
Subs: Kodro, Nunez, San Jose, Muniain, Cordoba, Ibai Gomez, Unai Simon.
Manager: Gaizka Garitano
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen, Piqué, Sergi Roberto, Lenglet, Nélson Semedo, Rakiti?, Vidal, Busquets, Coutinho, Messi, Suárez.
Subs: Pena, Dembele, Malcom, Murillo, Boateng, Alena, Vermaelen.
Manager: Ernesto Valverde
Arturo Vidal was the biggest culprit. He gave the ball straight to Yuri Berchiche whose shot from distance went just past the post.
Vidal lost possession again moments later this time under no pressure he put the ball straight out of play and Ernesto Valverde did little to hide his exasperation on the touchline.
Luis Suarez almost fashioned a goal from nothing charging down Iago Herrerin but stabbing the ball just wide.
Iñaki Williams then laid it off to Markel Susaeta and Ter Stegen made the first of his vital stops with one of the saves of the season tipping the effort acrobatically over the bar.
Messi seemed to be playing with the handbrake half on, but Barcelona's best chances still came from him. He floated one cross to Suarez who couldn't get his head to the ball.
He also clipped the top of the bar after Herrerin had charged out to close down Nelson Semedo. And he then drifted wide right to try his luck from distance with a long shot that Herrerin spilled for a corner which came to nothing.
Raul Garcia was lively for Athletic. Asides from the occasional Machiavellian maneuver with referee Carlos del Cerro Grande he flicked the ball up and over-head kicked it goalwards only for it to go just wide. Sergio Roberto then blocked his shot wide only for match officials to fail to spot the touch from the Barcelona defender and award a goal-kick instead of a corner.
Athletic were subdued at the restart. Only their pursuit – legal or otherwise – of Messi continued at the same level of intensity. Messi complained to the referee as free-kicks were either not given or not accompanied by a yellow card.
Barcelona put Carles Aleña on for Vidal. And Athletic threw on Iker Muniain as they tried to wake from their second-half attacking slumber. It almost worked when he immediately provoked a counter-attack that ended with Mikel San Jose shooting wide.
From another counter Lenglet earned a booking for scything down Iñaki Williams but again the resulting set-piece came to nothing.
With 15 minutes left Ousmane Dembele replaced Philippe Coutinho. Still Barcelona were not dominating and when Messi came deep to look for the ball he was dispossessed by Williams who raced clear and had to be chopped down this time by Sergio Busquets. Muniain took the free-kick but Williams headed it wide under pressure from Gerard Pique.
Muniain had made a difference, making Athletic more of an attacking force and he created another chance for Williams and another opportunity for Ter Stegen to save Barcelona. Williams took one touch and shot but Ter Stegen's reflexes passed the test and he stuck out a straight, strong right arm to bat the ball wide. It was his second crucial save of the game.
Pique connected with a late Messi free-kick but couldn't get his header on target. A Barça winner would have been hard on Athletic.
They had Oscar de Marcos sent off for a second yellow but saw out injury time with 10 men despite a late scare when the referee blew for time but then appeared to keep the players on the pitch for a few seconds longer while VAR reviewed the final tackle of the match from Yeray Alvarez. They breathed a sigh of relief when he finally sent them down the tunnel. Barça were relieved too – they had dropped two points but it would have been worse without their outstanding keeper.