Lionel Messi scored twice in a 3-2 comeback win for Barcelona in La Liga at Valencia on Sunday that kept the Catalan giants’ title hopes alive ahead of the final four games of the season.
The Argentine’s reaction at the full-time whistle said it all as the captain managed a shy smile after leading his side to a crucial and nervy win that sees the Catalan giants move back level on points in the table with Real Madrid
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid remain two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid ahead of a crucial round of fixtures next time out. Barca take on Atletico at the Camp Nou on Saturday, while Real Madrid faces fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday.
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Messi at the Double Again
Barcelona’s title hope looked in jeopardy when Gabriel Paulista headed the hosts in front after 50 minutes. However, the Catalan giants responded well and were level seven minutes later.
Messi saw a penalty saved by goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen but managed to slot home the rebound after good work from Sergio Busquets and a scramble in the penalty area.
Antoine Griezmann then fired home from close range to put Barcelona 2-1 up before Messi scored a brilliant free-kick to extend the visitors’ advantage.
Messi now has 28 La Liga goals for the season and looks destined to finish as the division’s top scorer and win the Pichichi Trophy for a record-extending eighth time. The Barcelona captain’s nearest challenge for the award is Karim Benzema who has 21 goals.
Barcelona Boss Proud of Comeback
Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman was banished to the stands for Sunday’s match after being shown a red card against Granada on Thursday and subsequently being handed a two-match touchline ban.
Koeman’s assist Alfred Schreuder took charge of the team against Valencia and praised his players after the match for the way they responded to going a goal down in such a crucial match, as reported by Marca.
“Playing against Valencia is always difficult. After 1-0 we were able to dominate and the boys did a good job and showed character,” he said. “We don’t look at other teams. We look at ourselves. We don’t consider the next match to be a final.”
Yet Barca’s next match could well go a long way to deciding where the title ends up at the end of the season. Atletico has let slip a healthy lead since the start of the year, and Schreuder knows it’s a crucial match.
“We all trust our players. If you look at the distance in January … but we’ve had three very good months and we’ve gotten really close. We have options,” he added. “The Atlético game is important, but there are other games. We have to go game by game, but of course it is important”
Victory for Barcelona over Atletico would see the Catalan giants leapfrog Diego Simeone’s side in the table. However, Koeman’s men still need Real Madrid to drop points if they are to finish top of the pile in 2020-21.