MADRID: Lionel Messi was back in best shape on Wednesday as he passed the keeper twice in a 3-2 win for Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao in La Liga. Barca lagging behind to an early Inaki Williams strike at San Mames but responded with a slick attacking performance that had Messi at the heart of it.
It was Messi’s cross that led to Pedri’s equaliser and later, the Argentinian L. Messi could have had a hat-trick, but woodwork to intervene.
But this was a vintage and classical display from the 33-year-old took Barca towards win.
His double helped Barca reduce the gap behind La Liga’s leaders Atletico Madrid to seven points, keeping hopes for Barca still alive.
Bilbao goals come in the third minute and the 90th, each time exposing Barcelona’s defensive frailties that remain unsolved.
Still, in between, Ronald Koeman’s team were able to dictate the match and demonstrate why going forward they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Pedri was excellent once again, his sumptuous backheel for Messi’s first goal shows talent of the 18-year-old and his understanding with his captain.
It was Bilbao first game under new coach Marcelino Garcia Toral. He was the one who led Valencia to win the last completed Copa del Rey by beating Barca in the final.
He was springing off the bench and clenching his fists in the third minute after Williams raced from behind, touching inside the scrambling Clement Lenglet before driving home.
Sergino Dest got a great chance after a neat exchange between Messi and Antoine Griezmann before Pedri did, Messi’s looping cross to the back post cushioned back across for Pedri to nod in.
Dembele was almost unplayable, drifting inside one minute and darting forward the next but it was Pedri’s vision and skills that created Barca’s second.
Messi sent him through, the Pedrk cutting inside before seeing Messi behind him.
Pedri backheeled, wrongfooting the Bilbao defence and goalkeeper, with Messi sliding in the finish and getting his name on scoreboard.
Griezmann was denied after more good work by Dembele while Messi had a goal ruled out and then hit the crossbar with a curling effort from distance.
Bilbao still trying to be in game and got equalised early in the second half, with the lively Williams and Raul Garcia both going close.
But, Messi struck again and handled defeat to Bilbao He sent the ball wide to Griezmann, and when the pass came to the near post Messi stroke in off the crossbar.
Messi missed his hat-trick as ball hit the post again when Dembele’s cross was dummied by Griezmann before a misplaced Messi pass allowed Muniain to pull one back for Bilbao. It was Messi’s first mistake of the match.