Lionel Messi is back in form and Barcelona are finding their feet after a 4-0 demolition of Granada on Saturday put them within four points of the top of La Liga.
Messi scored twice to make it four goals in three matches since the turn of the year and his resurgence has coincided with an upturn for the team too, this victory Barca’s third on the bounce.
It puts them in sight of league leaders Atletico Madrid, even if Diego Simeone’s side now have three games in hand. Atletico’s match against Athletic Bilbao earlier on Saturday was postponed due to the snowstorm that has engulfed Spain this weekend.
“We are calmer,” said Barca coach Ronald Koeman. “We have to stay humble, to keep working and winning.”
Messi’s double, the second a sweetly-struck free-kick, came between two strikes from Antoine Griezmann, who is also enjoying a revival after a disappointing 18 months at Camp Nou.
Some had wondered if Messi would ever get back to his best following an underwhelming start to the season but his latest contribution makes him the league’s top scorer on 11 goals.
After attempting to leave Barcelona last summer, the 33-year-old’s recovery always felt dependent on him rediscovering his own motivation and focus.
“From day one, my interactions with Leo have been good,” said Koeman. “He has done his best to be in shape, to help the team, like everyone he has struggled a bit for a period, but recently he has been good.
“We’re used to this, if there are a couple of games where he doesn’t score, there will be a couple of people who will be unhappy, but not me, never.”
Koeman deserves credit for the rejuvenation of players like Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong, all of whom have improved significantly in recent matches.
Barcelona’s recovery has a long way to run, with unresolved issues on and off the pitch very likely to resurface before the end of the season.
Yet Koeman will hope a corner has been turned and at a good time, with the Champions League last 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain to come next month and a large chunk of the league calendar still remaining.
Barca’s first goal was fortunate, with Roberto Soldado seemingly surprised to have the ball passed at him by Sergio Busquets. Soldado’s lashed clearance saw the ball sliced backwards to Griezmann, who touched and shot past Rui
Griezmann was the instigator for the second goal too, the Frenchman driving forward to the edge of the area before transferring inside to Messi. Messi was given the yard he needed to shift onto his left foot and curl home.
Messi made it three from a similar position, just on the edge of the box, this time the ball was stationary.
Pedri had been prevented from running into the box and Messi fired the resulting free-kick low, perfectly into the corner.
Griezmann made it four, firing in a scooped pass from Dembele on the turn. Messi went off with almost half an hour left, his work already done, while Granada’s Jesus Vallejo was sent off late on.
Atletico’s game at home to Athletic Bilbao was called off, with the snowfall in Madrid on Friday the heaviest since 1971.
Bilbao’s players were unable to land in the city and returned to Bilbao early on Friday evening.
Seville was among the areas spared the awful weather conditions, with Sevilla able to play against Real Sociedad and win a five-goal thriller 3-2.
Youssef En-Nesyri grabbed a hat-trick in a frantic match at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where four goals were scored in the first 14 minutes before En-Nesyri decided it early in the second half.
Defeat means Real Sociedad have won only one of their last six matches. They drop to fifth in La Liga, level on points with Sevilla.