Messi double revives Barca hopes in La Liga title chase - GulfToday

Messi double revives Barca hopes in La Liga title chase

Lionel Messi

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi scores against Athletic Bilbao during their Spanish League match at San Mames in Bilbao on Wednesday. Reuters

Lionel Messi was on the double for Barcelona on Wednesday in a 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao, prompting coach Ronald Koeman to say his team can still win La Liga.

Messi’s brace helped Barca reduce the gap behind league leaders Atletico Madrid to seven points, even if Diego Simeone’s men will be hard to catch, given they also have two games in hand.

Koeman admitted last week it would be “very difficult” to close the gap but was more optimistic after the victory at San Mames.

“There is always a chance,” he said. “The season is very long and you can have ups and downs. It may be that one team that is doing very well will later find it difficult.”

Only a late mistake took some of the shine off Messi’s night, a poor pass allowing Iker Muniain to finish and make the result look closer than it was.

Bilbao had scored in the third minute and the 90th, each time exposing Barcelona’s defensive frailties that remain unsolved.

Yet in between, Koeman’s team were able to dictate the match and demonstrate why going forward they are still a force to be reckoned with.

“The team is growing, playing with more confidence,” said Koeman. “Sometimes we look close to our best.”

Bilbao were playing their first game under new coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, who was springing off the bench in the third minute after Inaki Williams raced in behind, touching inside the scrambling Clement Lenglet before driving home. But Barcelona fought back and Pedri scored, Messi’s looping cross to the back post cushioned back across for Pedri to nod in.

Pedri’s vision created Barca’s second. Messi sent him through, the youngster cutting inside before seeing Messi behind him. Pedri backheeled, wrongfooting the Bilbao defence and goalkeeper, with Messi sliding in the finish.

Messi had a goal ruled out and then nicked the crossbar with a curling effort from distance.

Bilbao might have equalised early in the second half, with the lively Williams and Raul Garcia both going close.

Yet their hopes were dashed just after the hour when Messi struck again. He sent the ball wide to Griezmann via Pedri and when the pass came to the near post Messi was there to stroke in off the crossbar.

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