Bilbao, Spain, Jan 6 (efe-epa).- Leo Messi gave Athletic Bilbao manager Marcelino Garcia Toral a bitter pill to swallow on Wednesday on his return to coaching after a 16-month hiatus. The Barcelona striker came through in fine style, just like in earlier years, with two goals, two shots that hit the post and help manufacturing the first of Barcelona’s tallies in their 3-2 road win on Wednesday.
Athletic opened the scoring at San Mames Stadium before empty stands due to coronavirus gathering restrictions, with Iñaki Williams sinking a great right-footer from inside the box just three minutes into play Barcelona, on a six-game unbeaten streak, quickly recouped from going behind so early, with Pedri finding the net in the 14th minute and Messi scored his two goals in the 38th and 62nd minutes before Iker Muniain converted one last time for the home squad in the 90th minute.
Marcelino was directing Athletic for the first time after Gaizka Garitano was sacked last weekend.
Barcelona’s got on the board after a deep crossing pass that Frenkie De Jong knocked back to the 18-year-old Pedri, who headed it into the wide-open net.
Barca then commenced to dominate the match, with Messi putting on a masterful performance. His first goal came after he passed to Pedri, who knocked it back to him and – with Athletic goaltender Simon out of position, the Argentine nicely slid the ball into the net.
After the break, Messi blasted the ball past Simon for what looked like a score, but he was ruled to be fractionally offside. Yet, that didn’t stop him, firing another shot-on-goal that hit the post and then, in the 61st minute, finally tallying for real for Barca’s third score of the match.
A little later, Messi tried for a hat trick, but his shot hit the post again, and finally Muniain capitalized on an error by the Argentine striker for another Athletic score, but it was too little too late.
With the win, Barcelona is now only seven points behind La Liga leaders Atletico de Madrid.
Athletic: Unai Simon; Capa, Unai Nuñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri (Balenziaga, m.31); De Marcos (Berenguer, m.65), Vencedor, Vesga (Dani Garcia, m.65), Muniain; Williams and Raul Garcia (Morcillo, m.80).
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Dest (Mingueza, m.75), Araujo, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Busquets, De Jong, Pedri; Dembele (Braithwaite, m.75), Griezmann and Messi.