Madrid (AFP) – Lionel Messi came in between the halves to save Barcelona by scoring two goals, including his first of open play this season, in a 5-2 win over Real Betis on Saturday.
Ronald Koeman had comforted Messi, but the match was stopped after Antoine Griezmann missed a penalty kick in the absence of the Argentine, before Antonio Sanabria canceled the opening match for Osman Dembele.
But within four minutes of his introduction, Messi gave Griezmann an open goal with a superb doll and then scored two goals himself, the first penalty kick that saw Betis’ Issa Mandy sent off for handball on the line.
In between, Lauren Moron gave Betis a short hope, but Messi’s second goal and his late goal by Pedri ensured Barcelona would finish a series of four matches without a win and climb to eighth in the Spanish League.
Koeman’s assistant Alfred Schroeder said before the match that Messi was “not new” but the 33-year-old gave a resounding answer to those who suggest his performance this season was evidence of a downturn.
Even before scoring his first goal of the season from open play, Messi switched that match, putting Barcelona in control with his gorgeous Griezmann doll and then a penalty kick from Dembele’s shot, a pass by a pass.
Griezmann also scored his goal with Messi on the field but couldn’t prove a point without him.
Despite a spirited half-hour opening, Griezmann missed a penalty before Messi scored and the French player was eventually substituted, pictured sitting in the stands with a grim expression as Barcelona triumphed.
Neither team was too interested in the defense early on as Griezmann and Anso Fati fired two shots each while Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to be alert to clear William Carvallo’s header.
Barcelona advanced after 22 minutes when Dembele pierced his left foot before scoring a goal past Claudio Bravo to score his first league goal in 13 months.
When Mandy received a penalty after slipping Ansu into the forward post, Griezmann had the opportunity to add a goal to his busy show in the first half.
But Griezmann wasted, a simple shot saved by Bravo with ease, before Betis scored a goal, and Sanabria finished after Christian Tello buried again from the left flank.
Messi entered, and after four minutes Barcelona was in front, the Argentine rushed to meet Jordi Alba’s cross in the front post, only to skip the ball, deceived his goalkeeper and goalkeeper, leaving Griezmann with open nets.
After 11 minutes, Messi made it 3-1 from the penalty spot, which he won after a pass from Dembele’s pass by a shot that was stopped by Mandy, who was sent off on the goal line.
Moron gave Betis hope 17 minutes before the end of the match when he finished with a penalty kick from Alex Moreno, but Messi made sure to catch Sergi Roberto’s tap and hit his second and fourth goal for Barcelona. Pedri made the fifth goal in stoppage time.