Messi scores, Koeman glows
FC Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was glowing with pride after his side’s 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday and said the performance was a benchmark for the remainder of the season.
Barca fell behind in the third minute on an Inaki Williams goal during a counterattack but responded emphatically with goals from Pedri and a resurgent Lionel Messi either side of half-time before Iker Muniain struck late for the hosts.
“That’s the way we need to continue. I felt like we controlled the game the whole time and there were barely any dips in our play,” Koeman told a news conference.
The win lifted Barca into third place in the standings and led Koeman to reassess previous pessimistic comments about his side’s faint chances of catching leaders Atletico Madrid, who lead the Catalans by seven points with two games in hand.
“The title race is still open because the season is very long. There can be injuries, teams can have downturns and a side that looks very good can end up struggling,” he said.
The Dutchman also praised Messi, who produced arguably his best performance of the season and was unlucky not to grab a hat-trick.
The Barca captain has had a relatively poor season by his own standards but his scores took him on to nine goals for the campaign, making him the joint top scorer in La Liga.
“Messi has given everything since day one, he has spent so many years at the very top level but it seems that now he has become even more effective,” Koeman said. “He has always shown us his skill and his commitment but today (Wednesday) he gave us his goals too.”
On 18-year-old playmaker Pedri, Koeman added: “He plays with so much maturity despite his age and most importantly he uses his head.”
“When you concede so early it’s normal to drop your heads but we showed a lot of self-belief to make sure that didn’t happen,” said Pedri.
“We knew it was an important game that’s how we approached it, we knew they’d look for Inaki with his speed but we overcame that and got three very important points.”
Athletic forward Williams said his side had played well but were powerless to stop Barca when Messi was on top form.
“We played a good first half, we were the Athletic we wanted to be but we were up against the best player in the world and he swung the game in a different direction,” he said.
“The goals they scored were fantastic and there’s very little you can do to defend against plays like that.”