Madrid (AFP) – Lionel Messi came in between the halves to save Barcelona by scoring two goals, including his first of open play this season, in a 5-2 win over Real Betis on Saturday.
Ronald Koeman had comforted Messi, but the match was stopped after Antoine Griezmann missed a penalty kick in the absence of the Argentine, before Antonio Sanabria canceled the opening match for Osman Dembele.
But within four minutes of his introduction, Messi gave Griezmann an open goal with a superb doll and then scored two goals himself, the first penalty kick that saw Betis’ Issa Mandy sent off for handball on the goal line.
In between, Lauren Moron gave Betis a short hope, but Messi’s second goal and the second goal by Pedri ensured Barcelona would finish a series of four matches without a win and climb to eighth place in the Spanish League.
Koeman’s assistant Alfred Schroeder said before the match that Messi was “not new” but the 33-year-old gave a resounding answer to those who suggest his performance this season was evidence of a downturn.
Even before scoring his first goal of the season from open play, Messi switched that match, putting Barcelona in control with his gorgeous Griezmann doll and then a penalty kick from Dembele’s shot, a pass from a pass.
Griezmann also scored his goal with Messi on the field but couldn’t prove a point without him.
Despite a lively opening half hour, Griezmann missed a penalty before Messi scored and the Frenchman was eventually substituted, pictured sitting in the stands with a grim expression as Barcelona triumphed.
Neither team was too interested in defense early on as Griezmann and Anso Fati fired two shots each while Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to be alert to clear William Carvallo’s header.
Barcelona advanced after 22 minutes when Dembele broke through his left foot before scoring a goal past Claudio Bravo to score his first league goal in 13 months.
When Mandy received a penalty after slipping Ansu into the forward post, Griezmann had the opportunity to add a goal to his busy show in the first half.
But Griezmann wasted, a simple shot saved by Bravo with ease, before Betis scored, and Sanabria finished after Christian Tello burst again from the left flank.
Messi entered, and after four minutes Barcelona was in the lead, the Argentine rushed to meet Jordi Alba’s cross in the front post, only to pass the ball, and deceived his goalkeeper and goalkeeper, leaving Griezmann with an open window.
After 11 minutes, Messi made it 3-1 from the penalty spot, which he won after a pass from Dembele’s pass by a shot that was stopped by Mandy, who was sent off on the goal line.
Moron gave Betis hope 17 minutes before the end of the match when he ended a penalty kick from Alex Moreno, but Messi was keen to catch Sergi Roberto’s tap and hit his second and fourth goal for Barcelona. Pedri made the fifth goal in stoppage time.
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