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Lethal Messi leads Barca to thumping win, fires warning shot to PSG

  • Published at 01:58 pm February 14th, 2021
Messi
Lionel Messi scores to extend Barcelona's lead against Alaves in their La Liga match at Camp Nou Saturday Reuters

Messi fired in two sensational long-range efforts and would have had a hat-trick had a dubious VAR decision in the first half not ruled Griezmann offside

Barcelona might not be able to catch Atletico Madrid but they may fancy their chances against Paris Saint-Germain after Lionel Messi scored twice in a 5-1 thrashing of Alaves Saturday. 

Messi fired in two sensational long-range efforts and would have had a hat-trick at Camp Nou had a dubious Video Assistant Referee decision in the first half not ruled Antoine Griezmann offside. 

He did tee up a second of the night for the 21-year old Francisco Trincao and was instrumental in Junior Firpo adding a fifth too, a flamboyant scoop freeing Griezmann to send a pass to Firpo at the back post.

Victory means Barca trail Atletico by eight points again after the leaders temporarily pulled 11 clear thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Granada earlier Saturday. 

Barca and Real Madrid have both played a game more than Atleti, with Zinedine Zidane's side facing Valencia at home Sunday. 

Atletico's win was a significant psychological boost on the back of slipping up for the first time in nine games at home to Celta Vigo earlier this week. 

Their advantage may prove too big to close but Barcelona's Champions League tie against PSG, which had the French side as firm favorites when the draw was made in December, now feels harder to call.

The question is whether a free-flowing Barca attack, full of talent and orchestrated by Messi, can hurt PSG enough to make up for what remains a shaky defence, depleted by injuries and vulnerable to the counter-attack. 

With Gerard Pique and the emerging Ronald Araujo both out injured, Frenkie de Jong filled in again in central defence, although the Dutchman has arguably been Barca's most improved player this year in the midfield three. 

Instead there was a start for Ilaix Kourouma in midfield, the 18-year old academy product who assisted Trincao's opening goal but whose misplaced pass led to Luis Rioja briefly giving Alaves hope. 

After Trincao had swept home, Messi thought he had made it two, pouncing on a rebound after Griezmann missed but the goal was ruled out, even though replays suggested Griezmann was onside. 

Messi made amends soon after, latching onto a Sergio Busquets pass, darting in-field and ripping a shot in off the post. 

Rioja capitalized on Ilaix's mistake just before the hour but Barca pulled away with three goals in six minutes. 

Pedri's pass freed Messi but he failed to round Fernando Pacheco and instead the ball spilled out for Trincao to score his second. 

Messi slammed a stinging strike into the top corner from 25 yards to make it 4-1 before perhaps the goal of the night came last, Messi scooping over for Griezmann, who volleyed to the back post where Firpo could not miss. 

Atletico had earlier swerved a second consecutive slip by squeezing past Granada at Los Carmenes, a victory secured by Angel Correa's fortuitous winner in the second half.  

There was a hint of luck in Granada's equalizer too, Yangel Herrera's shot deflecting off Marcos Llorente, who had himself put Atletico in front only three minutes earlier.  

At the full-time whistle, he shook his fists and sprinted down the tunnel, his relief evident at the end of a game that could easily have seen more points dropped for his side.  

Luis Suarez had scored in six of the previous seven games but for once the 34-year-old was not the matchwinner, with Llorente and Correa - two unsung heroes this season - instead proving the difference. 

Llorente's goal was his seventh of the season while his lay-off for Correa was his sixth assist.

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