Barca talisman Lionel Messi’s rollercoaster summer was followed up in atypical fashion with an uncharacteristically slow start to the new season.
However, the ushering in of the new year seems to have launched the Blaugrana’s wizard into another higher gear to show glimpses of his best.
On Wednesday night, Messi brilliantly scored twice and graced the woodwork twice in Barcelona’s 3-2 victory over Athletic Bilbao, moving the Catalans to third in La Liga.
Bilbao sped into the lead after Inaki Williams raced clear to give his team the lead in just the third minute.
Barcelona however soon caught up from behind as Ronald Koeman’s men returned to parity in style, with a free-flowing team move ending with Messi’s deep cross being headed back by Frenkie de Jong for 18-year-old Pedri to equalize.
After that, the show was Messi’s all the way, sweeping home after an audacious, tongue-in-cheek backheel from Pedri to give Barcelona the lead and then adding a galvanising third with an emphatic flourish after Antoine Griezmann’s incisive pass split the Bilbao defense.
Messi’s brace ties him with three others at the top of the goalscoring charts in Spain on nine overall.
Ironically, it was Messi’s errant pass late on that surrendered the chance to Bilbao to halve the deficit, but a resurgent Barcelona were able to hold on to the three points to move seven behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who has two games in hand on the Catalans.
Granted it hasn’t been the Barcelona best that has been witnessed in recent weeks, but thankfully for the Blaugrana the early season stutters seem to have been ironed out to a certain degree. Since losing 3-0 at home to Juventus in the Champions League early in December, Barcelona has now advanced with seven La Liga matches unbeaten, with five wins and two draws.
After the game, Pedri praised the team’s new-found mental toughness.
“When you concede so early it’s normal to drop your heads but we showed a lot of self-belief to make sure that didn’t happen,” the Spain under-21 international enthused.
“We knew it was an important game, that’s how we approached it. We knew they’d look for Inaki (Williams) with his speed but we overcame that and got three very important points.”