La Liga roundup: Messi’s brace keeps Barcelona in the hunt

Barcelona started 2021 with the usual narrative as the Catalans needed two goals from Lionel Messi to get over the obstacle of Athletic Club of Bilbao on Wednesday.

Barcelona beat the Basque side 3-2 to stay in the hunt for the La Liga title, moving to third place on the table with 31 points, seven behind leaders, Atletico Madrid, who also have two games in hand.

Inaki Williams gave the home side the lead in the third minute but Pedri equalised 11 minutes later.

Messi scored in the 38th and 62nd minutes to give the Catalans a 3-1 lead but a goal from Iker Muniain on the dot of full time led to a tense finish and elaborated the importance of Messi’s brace.

This was Barcelona’s game in hand and they have started 2021 on a good note by winning two away matches – against Huesca and Athletic Club by slender margins.

Meanwhile league leaders, Atletico Madrid, surprisingly lost to Cornella, a Segunda B side 1-0 in a Copa del Rey match on Wednesday.

After the match, in the post-match press conference, Diego Simeone vaguely cast doubts on his availability as manager in the next season. “Football is changing all the time,” he began, “and you must be open to every single scenario. I am happy here but I must accept every decision of the club,” he added.

Athletico’s lead over their neighbours, Real Madrid, is two points but they still have those two games in hand with which they can further stretch their lead. The two matches are away to Levante and home to Sevilla.

Former table-toppers, Real Sociedad, have fallen on hard times and they drew their latest encounter at the Reale Arena in Donostia-San Sebastian last Sunday against visiting Osasuna 1-1. They have now taken four points from the last 15 to drop to fourth, having played 18 matches.

Valencia drew again, at home to Cadiz to stay in 17th place, level with Elche on 16 points but their better goals difference is keeping them out of the relegation places.

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