What Barcelona needed the most was consistency and their talisman Lionel Messi to fire all guns blazing. In the match against Athletic Bilbao, the Argentine superstar was at his best and his combination with the youngster Pedri is the talk of the town now.

Ronald Koeman called for realism after the 1-1 home draw with Eibar at the end of December, insisting it would be “very difficult” for Barcelona to challenge the two Madrid clubs for LaLiga glory.

However, they have won two on the spin since that Camp Nou setback, moving them to third in the table. The combinations produced by the quartet of Messi, Pedri, Griezmann, and Ousmane Dembele offer hope they can still yet claw back their title rivals, though defensive concerns remain after conceding two soft goals.

Barcelona needed a match like the one they had at San Mames.

The fighting spirit of the Catalan side was inspiring gave Koeman a ray of hope with optimism returning when it comes to Messi, who played his best match of the season in Bilbao. He was the leader of the team when they needed to respond to the early goal from Inaki Williams.

With his goals and his passes, he steered the ship away from trouble.

First, his pass towards Frenkie de Jong was crucial in setting up Pedri’s goal, before the No.10 netted two of his own as well as hitting the post twice and having a goal ruled out for offside.

For the first time in a long time, he was seen smiling on the pitch. After scoring his first, he looked delighted and his excitement at the sublime assist from Pedri was clear to see. Messi made sure that the teenager got half the credit for the goal.

By scoring again in the second half, Messi is now joint-top scorer in the division. He has nine goals, the same as the other leaders of the Pichichi standings – Luis Suarez, Gerard Moreno, and Iago Aspas.

It’s not just because he scored again that Messi is happy. Another key reason is that he has found new partners on the pitch, as is clearly the case with Pedri.

The understanding with De Jong is developing two, as the pair linked up for the goal at Huesca and to create the opener in Bilbao.

The connection between Pedri and Lionel Messi has been productive.

Pedri, who was turned down by Real Madrid, has made Messi smile on the pitch again, and there’s no better evidence of that than his assist in the 38th minute at San Mames.

With the score level at one goal each, Messi started the move in midfield, saw Pedri move inside unmarked, and ran to his left.

The four Athletic Club defenders were well positioned, but Messi picked the youngster out with a left-footed pass. And then something incredible happened.

Pedri controlled the ball with his right foot and looked set to shoot, only to pass the ball back into Messi’s path with his studs, rather than his heel itself.

With one of football’s most clinical forwards on the receiving end, and with Unai Simon caught out by the pass, expecting Pedri to shoot himself, Messi could convert to give Barcelona the lead.

It was a magnificent move which showed a great understanding between the two players.

Messi pointed to Pedri straight away and went to hug him to celebrate, making sure that if anyone didn’t know who Pedri was, they certainly do now.

“Pedri is showing despite his youth that he is very mature,” Koeman said in his post-match interview.

“Messi has always shown his desire but today also with goals. It is very important.”

“The final result is a bit short because we have been superior in many phases.”

“They made it 1-0 and we did not have the defensive coordination, but then we controlled [the game].”

“I am happy with the result and with how we have achieved it. We have deserved it. Winning because of our game and our opportunities.”

“The teamwork has been phenomenal. We will fight until the last match. There is a distance [to go], but we are on the right track.”


Barcelona showing signs of improvement, but only time well how long they can maintain it in this tough season.

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