Barcelona comfortably saw off bottom of the table Huesca to crank up the pressure on Atletico Madrid in a tense title race.
It was a perfect start for Lionel Messi, who was making his record-equalling 767th Barcelona appearance. The Argentine marked the occasion with a beautiful opener, touching the ball past the defender before curling a strike in off the crossbar.
Both sides threatened to find the next goal. Pablo Maffeo saw his low strike saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen following a mazy solo run, while Jordi Alba struck the crossbar from Messi’s through ball.
But it wasn’t long before the hosts doubled their lead in equally brilliant fashion. This time it was Antoine Griezmann, who hammered a 25-yard shot into the top corner. It was the Frenchman’s first goal in ten games in all competitions.
Ronald Koeman’s men came within an inch of making it three shortly before half time. Alba swung in an inch-perfect cross for Frenkie de Jong, but he could only lift the ball onto the crossbar.
In the dying seconds of the first half, the visitors were handed with an opportunity to bring themselves back into the game when Ter Stegen was adjudged to have fouled Rafa Mir. The forward stepped up and halved the deficit from the penalty spot.
But Huesca’s hopes of a comeback were quickly put to bed in the second half via an unlikely source. Messi’s cross found the head of young defender Oscar Mingueza, who planted his header into the bottom corner.
Mir had a glorious chance to pull another back when Dani Escriche nodded the ball across goal. However, the Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee somehow touched it over the bar from point blank range.
That was the last of the action until the final moments, when Messi capped the night with another goal. This time, he picked up a pass from substitute Francisco Trincao and found the bottom corner from distance via a deflection.
The victory takes Barcelona to within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid, having been ten points behind Diego Simeone’s men at the start of February while playing a game extra.
In contrast, Huesca remain at the bottom of the table after a second successive defeat. Pacheta’s men are four points from safety with 11 games remaining.
Man of the Match – Lionel Messi
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 15, 2021
To call him the man of the hour would be an insult – he’s the man of the last 15 years at the Camp Nou.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner was making his 767th appearance for La Blaugrana, equalling the record set by former teammate Xavi in 2015. And, of course, he took the spotlight once again.
He got the ball rolling with a majestic opening goal, curling in off the bar after a wonderful first touch to beat the defender. And, later on in the game, he showcased his creative side, swinging in a peach of a cross for Mingueza to head home.
He then put the finishing touches on a fine performance with another goal, albeit a rather fortunate one this time around.
La Liga’s title race – the best in Europe
After an exciting first half of the season, the Premier League’s title race has gone very flat. Manchester City suddenly remembered how to play football, while Liverpool seemingly forgot.
In the Bundesliga, it’s been a little bit tighter than usual, but Bayern Munich are still four points clear of RB Leipzig with nine games remaining.
In Italy, Inter Milan seem nailed on to end Juventus’ reign of terror, sitting nine points clear at the top and ten ahead of Andrea Pirlo’s men.
It’s looking close in Ligue 1, with Lille, Paris Saint-Germain, and Lyon making up a three horse race. Mauricio Pochettino has not had the desired effect in France quite yet, but still has a chance to win the league.
However, none of them can match up to the title race we’re seeing in La Liga.
At the beginning of February, Atletico Madrid were ten points clear at the top with a game in hand. One month-and-a-half onwards, and now their lead has been cut down to just four points, following a run of just three wins in eight.
In that same time frame, Barcelona have picked up six wins from a possible seven, while Real Madrid have won five and drawn two.
With 11 games left of the season to go, Los Rojiblancos will be feeling the heat from the two titans as they look to secure a first league title since 2014.
Atletico Madrid are still in a favourable position, but they will need to turn things around soon if they wish to avoid one of the biggest chokes in La Liga history.
As for Barcelona and Real Madrid, they’ll know that if they keep winning, they should be lifting that trophy in May.