MADRID (AFP) – Lionel Messi was back to his scintillating best on Wednesday as he scored twice in a 3-2 win for Barcelona over Athletic Bilbao in La Liga.
Barca trailed 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 then the Argentinian could have had a hat-trick, only for VAR and the woodwork to intervene.
But this was a vintage display from the 33-year-old, perhaps his best of the season so far, at a time when his future at Barcelona remains up in the air.
His double helped Barca reduce the gap behind La Liga’s leaders Atletico Madrid to seven points, even if Atletico will be hard to catch, given they also have two games in hand. Only a late mistake took some of the shine off Messi’s night, a poor pass allowing Iker Muniain to score 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, 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 again, his sumptuous backheel for Messi’s first goal another indication of the 18-year-old’s talent and his understanding with his captain.
Ousmane Dembele, meanwhile, enjoyed one of those virtuouso nights where his speed, invention and confidence made him look every bit like one of the world’s most exciting players.