After a 3-2 victory at Athletic Bilbao, Lionel Messi scored twice to ensure Barcelona climbed up to third in LaLiga. Barcelona were undefeated for six games, their longest run of the season, but fell behind after just three minutes when Inaki Williams fired a shot from the box’s edge.
But Pedri equalized quickly and Messi, who turned in possibly his best performance of the season, ensured that the last-minute goal of Iker Muniain was nothing more than a consolation. Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his second goal in Barcelona’s victory at Athletic Bilbao (Alvaro Barrientos/AP) Bilbao was for the first time under the guidance of new head coach Marcelino after the dismissal of Gaizka Gari When Raul Garcia released Williams, who was in his own half when the ball was being played, and charged into the Barcelona box, Marcelino got off to the perfect start. Williams easily got around the half-hearted play of Clement Lenglet and finished with a firm right-footed shot. Two minutes later, when Muniain set up Yuri Berchiche for a shot that hit the outside of the net, Bilbao nearly punished Barcelona with another lightning counter. Image.twitter. Com/p5E1aGIjVC- FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 6, 2021 The frantic opening phase continued as Sergino Dest, whose chance was blocked by Unai Simon, was set up by Messi and Antoine Griezmann. After 14 minutes, Barcelona equalized, and that was the cue for the Catalans, who now took charge of the game. Simon didn’t clear Messi’s cross, and Frenkie De Jong headed the ball back to Pedri, who headed the ball into the empty net. Inaki Williams cheers after putting Athletic Bilbao ahead in the third minute against Barcelona (Alvaro Barrientos/AP) Bilbao’s goal came under more pressure when Simon kept Ousmane Dembele’s shot at the second attempt, but after 38 minutes Barcelona took the lead. Simon saved from Jordi Alba before Bilbao lost daring full-back Yuri to injury. Messi found Pedri and in a nifty back pass from the Spaniard followed his pass to head. Simon was lost, and Messi slipped past the nearby post with the ball. Pedri became the youngest player at 18 years and 42 days to contribute a goal and an assist in a LaLiga match. Simon stopped Griezmann before the break, Messi fired wide and when the halftime whistle blew, Bilbao was relieved. &aWay! The Way! The Way! Pic.twitter.com/yxqtR0BOOC- FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 6, 2021 As Williams and Garcia went close after the restart, the break made Bilbao nice, but Messi was just offside before slipping the ball past Simon. Messi was in high spirits, touching the edge of the 20-yard target before extending Barcelona’s 61-minute lead. Jordi Alba discovered Griezmann and Messi, who had superbly paced his sprint to the near post, swept the latter’s cross off the bottom edge of the crossbar into the net. As he hit the post for the second time, Messi was denied another hat-trick as Barcelona attempted to put the game to rest. In order to give Bilbao hope with a crisp finish, Muniain took advantage of a Messi mistake, but Barcelona survived to cut the Atletico Madrid leadership gap to seven points.