Messi leads Barcelona to 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi added to his scoring streak with a first-half goal in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league on Sunday.
Messi scored his eighth goal in six matches with a firm, low shot from outside the area in the 30th minute at Camp Nou Stadium, helping Barcelona to take an 11-point lead over Atletico Madrid, which plays at Villarreal later.
Messi was also involved in the runup to Barcelona’s first goal, a shot by Paco Alcacer from near the penalty spot after a low cross by Jordi Alba.
“Every day Messi shows he can do something different,” said Alcacer, who hadn’t scored in nearly three months.
Messi set the pace from the start and Barcelona was always in control at Camp Nou, comfortably earning its fourth straight win in all competitions.
The Argentina playmaker had scored twice in Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday, helping the Catalan club reach the quarterfinals of the European competition.
Messi took his Spanish league-leading scoring tally to 25 goals, four more than teammate Luis Suarez and seven ahead of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Messi is the best player in the world and he shows it game after game,” Athletic defender Unai Nunez said.
Messi has scored at least a goal in his last six matches. He did not play in Barcelona’s 2-0 win at Malaga in the previous league round because of the birth of his third son.
Barcelona, still unbeaten in La Liga, pressured throughout the game and had plenty of chances to score more goals, especially in the first half. Philippe Coutinho struck the crossbar shortly after Barcelona’s first goal and again after the second, and Paulinho hit the post just before halftime. Messi nearly scored his second from inside the area in the 88th.
“We played wonderfully in the first half but in the second we relaxed a bit and didn’t create as many opportunities,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We now have nine games left and these victories at home have been crucial for us.”
Valverde left Andres Iniesta out of the starting lineup, with the midfielder coming on in the second half. Alcacer played from the start in place of suspended forward Suarez, while Paulinho was in for the injured Sergio Busquets in midfield.
Ousmane Dembele played up front, making his third consecutive start in an injury-hit season.
Athletic dropped to 13th in the 20-team standings.
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