Led by reborn Messi, Barca aim for three wins in a row

Saturday, 9 January 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Barcelona's Lionel Messi in action with Athletic Bilbao's Inigo Martinez - Reuters

BARCELONA (Reuters): Barcelona showed their true potential in an outstanding 3-2 midweek win over Athletic Bilbao but now face the hard task of following it up when they visit Granada later today searching for an elusive third consecutive La Liga victory.

With Lionel Messi back to his best and linking superbly with teenage sensation Pedri, the Catalans were at times unplayable and recorded their most significant away victory of the season in the league with their first win in Bilbao in four games.

Messi was at the heart of their play and, during a season in which he has often looked out of touch with his team mates, everything seemed to finally click.

Pedri, 18, was his most reliable partner, serving up Messi’s first goal of the evening with an outrageous backheel into his path and showing a level of understanding with him not seen since Andres Iniesta’s departure in 2018.

Messi displayed his appreciation by embracing Pedri and the delighted look on the Argentine’s face conveyed his joy at finding an attacking player he thrives with after failing to dovetail with Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho. Barca’s captain said recently he had dragged the ill-feeling from his bid to leave the club last summer into this campaign, adding that he had struggled to identify with what has become a young and inexperienced team after so many new arrivals. Yet Messi also said he could see the new side was slowly beginning to form and was capable of great things. Wednesday’s exhibition in Bilbao was proof of their progress.

The win was far from the only top performance Barca have produced under manager Ronald Koeman but they have struggled for consistency and are still lacking a run of consecutive victories needed to stage a title challenge.

Granada, who are seventh in the standings, will not be easy opponents. They have the fifth-best home record in the league, winning five of eight home games while losing once.

Barca are third in La Liga, five points behind second-placed Real Madrid and seven adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid, who have two games in hand on both sides.

Atletico, who suffered an embarrassing midweek Copa del Rey defeat at third division Cornella, host ninth-placed Bilbao today when champions Real visit second-bottom Osasuna after enjoying a rare seven days’ rest since their last match.