Barcelona, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- Lionel Messi scored a brace to lead FC Barcelona to a 4-1 victory here Monday night over lowly Huesca and push the Catalans – winners of four straight in LaLiga – to within four points of league-leading Atletico Madrid.
The Blaugrana (59 points) struggled early in the season but have looked increasingly solid and in sync under head coach Ronald Koeman’s guidance over the past few months.
That flow was abundantly evident in the first half at Camp Nou, with the home side hitting the woodwork with two shots and scoring a pair of remarkable goals. A Huesca goal after a head-scratching penalty clouded what was otherwise a brilliant opening 45 minutes.
Koeman, who once again inserted Frenkie De Jong at center back, looked to attack his overmatched opponent with forays down the wings and the skill of Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele in the final third.
His Huesca counterpart, Pacheta, had little choice but to take a conservative approach and hope his last-place club could get a lucky bounce on the other end of the pitch.
That strategy, however, could only work if Barcelona’s forwards were unable to work their magic.
Instead, Messi opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a phenomenal, left-footed strike from outside the area that ricocheted off the crossbar and landed just over the line, far out of the reach of Huesca goalie Alvaro Fernandez Llorente.
The Argentine had another chance to score a couple of minutes later and then Jordi Alba hit the crossbar and the post with an attempt in minute 33. Griezmann, however, made no mistake on a shot from outside the box in the 35th minute that traveled a path nearly identical to Messi’s earlier strike.
An outstanding individual effort by Huesca right back Pablo Maffeo had put Barcelona net minder Marc-Andre ter Stegen to the test about 10 minutes earlier, but the visitors’ lone goal of the contest came after a controversial penalty that baffled Koeman.
Although the replay appeared to show no contact between Rafa Mir and Ter Stegen, the referee pointed to the spot and Huesca player converted from the 12-yard mark deep in first-half stoppage time.
“I think the review took four or five minutes, and that means VAR was used. And we all saw that Ter Stegen didn’t touch the Huesca forward. I don’t understand how you could whistle for a penalty,” the Dutch manager said in the post-match press conference after his team had leapfrogged Real Madrid into second place.
Even so, the home side shrugged off that setback and scored twice more in the second half, with 21-year-old defender Oscar Mingueza heading home a cross from Messi for his first goal as a professional in the 53rd minute and the Argentine superstar completing his brace with a second long-range goal in the 90th minute, this time bouncing a shot past Fernandez and just inside the far post. EFE-EPA