Barcelona into second
Barcelona made it 10 La Liga games unbeaten, gained revenge for their Super Cup final defeat and leapfrogged Real Madrid to move into second with victory over Athletic.
It was a good win too against a typically physical Athletic team. The first goal was a stunner from Lionel Messi, and the second a great team goal finished by Antoine Griezmann.
There was a lot to like about Barca’s performance too, although once again they missed chances which made for a nervy last few minutes in their first home game of 2021.
Yet Barca got the job done again to sit second after 20 games. The title still looks a distant dream, with Atletico 10 points ahead, but Barca aren’t giving up hope yet.
Messi responds with 650th goal
The pre-match build-up was predictably overshadowed by talk about Messi’s contract after El Mundo leaked details which made headlines all over the world.
It remains to be seen quite how that will affect Messi’s relationship with the club, but the captain certainly didn’t seem too bothered, scoring his 650th goal for the Catalan giants with a superb free-kick.
Messi could have scored before then too. Unai Simon made a great save after Griezmann had sent him through, while he also managed to chest a shot from Miralem Pjanic just over the bar.
Barca certainly did their best to support Messi after the game. Griezmann did the pre-match media duties and called his team-mate a “legend”, while Koeman went on the offensive and described the leak as a “malicious” attempt to “damage” Messi.
Griezmann enjoying 2021
Griezmann also put in another impressive display for Barcelona and has made a fine start to the year. The Frenchman has five goals and four assists now in his nine appearances in 2021.
The former Real Sociedad man also seems to love taking on Athletic. He’s now scored more goals against the Basque side than any other team in his career.
11 - Antoine Griezmann has scored 11 goals against Athletic Club in all competitions (5 for Atlético de Madrid, 3 for @FCBarcelona and 3 for Real Sociedad), more than against any other opponent in his club senior career. Critical. pic.twitter.com/Cg1cSXJDKg— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 31, 2021
Barcelona will certainly be hoping that Griezmann can continue his fine form as they head into February where some key fixtures await.
A Copa del Rey quarter-final is up next, PSG are due to arrive in the Champions League in a little over two weeks and Barca face away trips to Real Betis and Sevilla in La Liga.
Mingueza picks up first La Liga assist
Oscar Mingueza has come in for a bit of criticism in recent weeks, with a report claiming the club think he’s “not ready” to play in big games, so it was nice to see the youngster pick up his first league assist for the club for Barca’s winning goal.
The 21-year-old obviously still has plenty to learn, and allowed Raul Garcia to get behind him to set up Athletic’s equalizer, but will surely be delighted with his cross that teed up Griezmann for the winnner.
Mingueza probably hadn’t expected to feature at all for the first team this season but was making his 17th appearance for Barca in 2020-21. Most recently those appearances have come in an unfamiliar right-back role too due to injuries in defense.
Yet the youngster may now drop out of the team again. Sergi Roberto made his return from injury against Athletic and could take over at right-back, while Sergino Dest was back in training on Monday.
Three in a row for Umtiti
Umtiti was another player derided in the report due to his ongoing injury troubles, but the Frenchman made his third La Liga start in a row against Athletic and once again demonstrated his quality on the ball.
The center-back looked set for a tough test against the likes of Inaki Williams and Raul Garcia but put in another strong performance alongside Ronald Araujo in the heart of the Barca defense.
Umtiti certainly looks a better bet than Clement Lenglet at center-back currently, although questions marks will remain over whether he can put together a run of games in the first team. If he can it will be a big boost for Barca ahead of the business end to the season.