Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is back in form and Barcelona are finding their feet after a 4-0 humiliation of Granada on Saturday, January 9 put them within four points on the top of La Liga.
Messi scored twice to make it four goals in three matches since the turn of the year and his resurgence has coincided with an upturn for the team too.
The victory took Barca back into third place in the standings with 34 points, closing the gap with leaders Atlético Madrid to four points.
It puts them in sight of league leaders Atletico Madrid, even if Diego Simeone’s side now have three games in hand.
Atletico’s match against Athletic Bilbao earlier on Saturday was postponed due to the snowstorm that has engulfed Spain this weekend.
Messi’s double, the second a sweetly-struck free-kick, came between two strikes from Antoine Griezmann, who is also enjoying a revival after a disappointing 18 months at Camp Nou.
Some had wondered if Messi would ever get back to his best following an underwhelming start to the season but his latest contribution makes him the league’s top scorer on 11 goals.
After attempting to leave Barcelona last summer, the 33-year-old’s recovery always felt dependent on him rediscovering his own motivation and focus.
But Barca coach Ronald Koeman deserves credit for the rejuvenation of players like Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong, all of whom have improved significantly in recent matches.
Barcelona’s recovery has a long way to run, with unresolved issues on and off the pitch very likely to resurface before the end of the season.
Yet Koeman will hope a corner has been turned and at a good time, with the Champions League last 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain to come next month and a large chunk of the league calendar still remaining.
Barca’s first goal was fortunate, with Roberto Soldado seemingly surprised to have the ball passed at him by Sergio Busquets. Soldado’s lashed clearance saw the ball sliced backwards to Griezmann, who touched and shot past Rui Silva.
Griezmann was the instigator for the second goal too, the Frenchman driving forward to the edge of the area before transferring inside to Messi. Messi was given the yard he needed to shift onto his left foot and curl home.
Messi made it three from a similar position, just on the edge of the box, this time the ball was stationary.
Pedri had been prevented from running into the box and Messi fired the resulting free-kick low, perfectly into the corner.
Griezmann made it four, firing in a scooped pass from Dembele on the turn. Messi went off with almost half an hour left, his work already done.
Atletico’s game at home to Athletic Bilbao was called off, with the snowfall in Madrid on Friday the heaviest since 1971.
Bilbao’s players were unable to land in the city and returned to Bilbao early on Friday evening.
Seville was among the areas spared the awful weather conditions, with Sevilla able to play against Real Sociedad and win a five-goal thriller 3-2.
Youssef En-Nesyri grabbed a hat-trick in a frantic match at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where four goals were scored in the first 14 minutes before En-Nesyri decided it early in the second half.
Defeat means Real Sociedad have won only one of their last six matches. They drop to fifth in La Liga, level on points with Sevilla.
La Liga: Dembele’s Late Winner Pushes Barca Closer To Atletico
Ousmane Dembele volleyed in a 90th-minute winner against Real Valladolid on Monday to fire Barcelona to within a point of Atletico Madrid ahead of next weekend’s Clasico in La Liga.
Barca looked set for a damaging stalemate at Camp Nou after Atletico’s defeat by Sevilla on Saturday but Valladolid had Oscar Plano harshly sent off with 12 minutes left and Dembele snatched a 1-0 victory.
His strike could prove a crucial moment in the Spanish title race, with Barca now breathing down Atletico’s necks ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Real Madrid, who are three points off the top.
If Ronald Koeman’s men win at Valdebebas, they will claim first place for 24 hours at least, before a depleted and deflated Atletico play away at Real Betis on Sunday.
They will have to play better after being frustrated by a determined Valladolid side, with Lionel Messi delivering some firm words to his team-mates in the tunnel at half-time.
“We have to step it up a gear, we have to play with more rhythm,” Messi said. “If not it’s going to get complicated for us.”
It might have been more complicated had Plano not been shown a red card in the 78th minute, his hack on Dembele from behind giving Barca a crucial advantage for the final stages.
Victory makes it six in a row for them in La Liga, another win – particularly after an unconvincing performance – enhancing the sense that momentum now lies with Atletico’s rivals.
Defeat also compounded what Valladolid coach Sergio admitted on Sunday had already been a “sh**ty week” after five of his players tested positive for Covid-19, leaving him without 12 players, with six others injured and one more suspended.
To mark Messi breaking Xavi Hernandez’s appearance record for the club, he was presented with a framed shirt before kick-off, which he accepted with his family on the pitch. Messi passed Xavi’s previous record of 767 appearances last month, with this his 769th.
Valladolid were not just able to compete in the first half, they were probably the better side and could have led when Kenan Kodro’s early header struck the bar.
Dembele broke through and dragged back for Messi, whose shot was blocked, while Pedri’s long-range effort fizzed through and came back off the post.
But Barcelona were flat, their passing predictable and there was concern in Messi’s voice when he told his teammates to find a different gear in the second half.
Valladolid were almost undone by a Messi through ball for Dembele, who held his run but could not finish before the leaping Antoine Griezmann headed the rebound wide.
Barcelona looked more dangerous on the break than in possession and they were lucky to escape a penalty when Oscar Plano poked the ball onto the outstretched hand of Jordi Alba.
Koeman made three changes shortly after, Martin Braithwaite, Francisco Trincao and Ronald Araujo replacing Griezmann, Sergio Busquets and Oscar Mingueza.
But Barca’s biggest boost came 12 minutes from the end, when Plano was sent off for chasing Dembele back and tripping the Frenchman from behind. A yellow card seemed the more obvious decision.
Trincao went close and the winner came in the last minute as Frenkie de Jong’s cross was flicked to the back post by Ronald Aruajo. Dembele was free and lashed into the corner.
Osimhen Returns To Naples After Nasty Head Knock
Victor Osimhen is expected back in Naples on Monday evening despite the Napoli forward having to be hospitalised after banging his head on the ground during his side’s Serie A defeat at Atalanta.
Nigeria striker Osimhen was stretchered off the pitch unconscious towards the end of Sunday’s 4-2 loss in Bergamo after hitting his head following a clash with Cristian Romero.
The 22-year-old came round as he was transported to a hospital in the northern Italian city where tests revealed head trauma, and Napoli said in a statement that he would be returning south.
“Victor Osimhen is due to return to Naples on Monday evening after staying in Bergamo overnight as a precaution… The player will undergo further assessment on Tuesday.”
Osimhen joined Napoli for a club-record fee from Lille last summer, and returned to action last month after being sidelined for over two months with a shoulder injury and coronavirus.
Despite a promising start to the season he has scored just two goals for the club.
Napoli fell to their third defeat in five league games as Atalanta warmed-up for their Champions League clash with Real Madrid to move fourth in Serie A.
Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli are seventh, three points off the Champions League places, with pressure on the coach after his team lost the first leg of their Europa League tie with Granada 2-0 last week.
Arsenal Boss Arteta Hails Man City As ‘Best In Europe’
Mikel Arteta believes his Arsenal team will be facing the best side in Europe when they take on Premier League leaders Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
City have won a club-record 17 successive games across all competitions and are 10 points ahead of local rivals Manchester United at the summit of the English top-flight heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.
Arteta knows City well after working under manager Pep Guardiola in Manchester for three years before returning to manage Arsenal, having previously played for the Gunners.
“I think they are the best team in Europe at the moment,” Arteta said of City. “The way they are performing, the football they are playing and the consistency of the results, take all that it and it makes them the best team.
“So we have a big but, as well, a very exciting challenge ahead of us on Sunday.”
City made an uncertain start to the season but are now hot favourites to win a third Premier League title in four years
Arteta said he was impressed by how they had regained their form.
“What they have done is react to a difficult moment,” the Spanish boss explained. “They reacted in a really convincing way, all united and doing what they do best — being very consistent and winning games very comfortably.”
The former Everton and Arsenal midfielder added: “They have weaknesses like every team but at the moment teams have struggled a lot to find any of that because I think first of all defensively they have been really, really strong.”
Arsenal head into the match after a 1-1 draw against Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 clash in Rome on Thursday.
Next week’s second leg, being played in Athens because of coronavirus restrictions, is followed by a daunting run of fixtures that includes matches against Leicester, Tottenham, West Ham and Liverpool, all above Arsenal in the Premier League.
“We know the margin for error is minimal with the season that we have had in previous months, so we need to kick on,” he said.