LaLiga English

Messi scores brace as Barca pip Valencia in thriller, target league summit

Lionel Messi scored twice despite missing a penalty, and managed to charm his fans with an exquisite free-kick, as Barcelona edged out a five-goal thriller against a robust Valencia on Sunday to stay within touching distance of the top of La Liga.

After Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid’s victories both on Saturday, the pressure was on the Blaugrana as there was no margin for error at Mestalla, and Barca’s 3-2 win clinically reduced the gap behind Atletico back to two points, now with four games left to play.

Gabriel Paulista’s header early in the second half gave Valencia the lead before Messi missed a penalty, only to smash it back into the net from the resulting scramble.

Griezmann followed up with a goal and a superb Messi free-kick looked to have sealed the victory securely for the visitors but Carlos Soler’s whopper of a strike from distance left Barcelona holding on till the last whistle, wrenching out a nerve-jangling win allowing them to overtake Atletico Madrid next weekend if they can have one over Diego Simeone’s side at Camp Nou.

“We knew we would not have any calm games,” said Gerard Pique. “We are still in the fight. Calm games mean you’re not competing for anything.”

After a frantic week in which Real Madrid drew against Real Betis, Atletico lost to Athletic Bilbao and Barca were beaten on Thursday by Granada, order has been restored to some extent this weekend, with all the top three back to winning ways.

“The only idea against Atletico is to win,” said Pique. “I hope we will be top by the end of the weekend but even if someone else is there, I wouldn’t put my house on them being champions.”

It was clearly demonstrated in the match against Valencia that the trump card they had during the run-in, it is undeniably Messi whose brace takes his La Liga tally to 28 goals for the season, seven ahead of Karim Benzema and even more remarkable given his relatively slow start in the season. The Argentinian now has seven in his last five games.