Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has insisted the title race is not over yet, but that his side's 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday afternoon was a significant stepping stone. 

The clash of this season's Primera Division titans was settled, as is often the case, by a stunning piece of Lionel Messi magic, as the Argentine netted his third free-kick in as many games - firing past Jan Oblak to mark his 600th career goal for both club and country during the first-half. 

The Argentine-inspired victory leaves Blaugrana eight points clear at the top of La Liga - nine when you factor in the head-to-head - and although the Spaniard was confident while speaking to Marca post-match that the Catalans still had much to do, he was under no illusions regarding the magnitude of this weekend's win. 

"It was a very important match in that sense," replied Valverde when asked what the three points does for the title race.

"It isn't the same to be eight [points clear], than two. It isn't definitive, obviously, but we have taken a step. We'll see what the future holds."

Barcelona controlled proceedings for the most part inside an electric Camp Nou, particularly during the opening 45 minutes, and following the contest, the head coach was quick to praise his players for maintaining their game plan throughout. 

"[I'm] proud, above all, of how we have competed", Valverde said. "In matches of this kind, we have responded with certain guarantees and today has been like that. Everything has followed the script. It was hard to get [the win] because they have a great defence.

"Little by little we have been moving forward. We knew that, as the game went on, it would become more difficult because of the week we have had.

"They haven't had clear chances, but you're uneasy because they have great strikers. We suffered because, to beat Atletico, you have to suffer."

In a last-ditch attempt to snatch something from the game, Atleti boss Diego Simeone introduced both Kevin Gameiro and Angel Correa, and Valverde admitted his discomfort while watching on with his side possessing such a slender lead. 

"Of course you have the feeling that the players they have can score against you," added the Spaniard. "You're uneasy about that, of course."

Barca now enjoy a rare week off before travelling to bottom club Malaga next weekend in preparation for the visit of Chelsea in the Champions League last-16 on March 14.