Madrid, Feb 1: Lionel Messi showed his worth yet again, scoring on a beautiful free kick to lead Barcelona to a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league.
The 650th goal in his Barcelona career came amid the noise prompted by Spanish newspaper El Mundo’s report that his contract is worth 555 million euros ($673 million). The Catalan club, mired in debt and political turmoil, had to quickly deny its involvement in the leak.
Antoine Griezmann also scored for Barcelona, which won their fifth in a row in the league and moved into second place for the first time this season. They have the same 40 points as Real Madrid but are ahead on goal difference. Atletico earlier opened a 10-point lead after winning 4-2 at Cadiz with a pair of goals by Luis Suarez.
Messi, who had his request to leave Barcelona denied by the club last season, seemed unaffected by the leak on Sunday of his contract details. He played well from the start and was decisive again at the Camp Nou Stadium. The Argentine great opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a free kick shot that curled over the wall and found the top corner for his 12th league goal.
Athletic equalised with an own-goal by Jordi Alba as the defender tried to clear a cross by Raul Garcia in the 49th, and Griezmann put Barcelona ahead again, completing a cross by Oscar Mingueza in the 75th.
It was the third meeting between Barcelona and Athletic this month, with the Catalan club winning a postponed league game and losing the Spanish Super Cup final.
Athletic were trying to win their sixth consecutive match in all competitions. The loss was only their second since coach Marcelino Garcia Toral was signed in the beginning of the year – the first also was against Barcelona.
It was Barcelona’s first home match in 2021. They had played eight consecutive games away from the Camp Nou, including in the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup.
Suarez continued his stellar form with Atletico, scoring twice in the win over Cadiz to help Diego Simeone’s team open a huge lead at the top.
Suarez scored a goal in each half to reach 14 league goals this season, marking his best-ever league start in Spain and becoming the league’s leading scorer. The Uruguay striker, who was let go by Barcelona at the end of last season, has scored nine goals in his last eight matches with Atletico. – AP