Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was at the heart of another devastating attacking show as they thumped Athletic Bilbao 5-2 in La Liga on Sunday to move within a point of leaders Real Madrid.
The Catalan side took full advantage of Real’s 4-0 derby defeat by champions Atletico Madrid on Saturday with a dazzling display that moved them onto 53 points, three ahead of Atletico.
Earlier Valencia’s Pablo Piatti set them on the way to a 2-1 victory at Espanyol as they moved up to fourth by leapfrogging Sevilla who slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Getafe.
Messi had a hand in all five goals and has been in inspired form in a nine-match winning streak in all competitions for Barca since a defeat by Real Sociedad which led to a reported bust-up between coach Luis Enrique and the Argentina forward.
“It is a privilege to play alongside two phenomenons (in Messi and Neymar) and I need to enjoy it,” Barcelona striker Luis Suarez told reporters.
“We knew that it was going to be a difficult game but we got early goals that helped, although they (Athletic) did keep fighting to the end.”
Barca took the lead from a Messi free-kick that deflected off the wall and wrong-footed keeper Gorka Iraizoz after 15 minutes.
The Argentine then played in Suarez who fired home from 20 metres to lift the pressure off the Uruguay forward who had not scored in six games and earlier had a header saved from point-blank range by Iraizoz.
“I am very self-critical and I get angry with myself but I knew that the goal was going to come,” said Suarez.
“The save that Gorka made against me was amazing. I wasn’t nervous but I do get worried when I feel I am not helping the team.”
Mikel Rico pulled a goal back for the hosts in the 59th minute but their celebrations had barely died down when Oscar De Marcos put the ball into his own net after Messi knocked a cross goalwards.
Messi was at the heart of most of Barca’s play and set up Neymar for a clinical finish after 65 minutes.
Athletic kept attacking with Aritz Aduriz scoring but then they had Xabier Etxeita dismissed for a high tackle on Suarez.
Substitute Pedro Rodriguez scored Barca’s fifth from close range with Messi again playing a part in the build up.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique rotated his squad by bringing Ivan Rakitic and Xavi into midfield while Jeremy Mathieu played instead of Javier Mascherano at centre half.
With Athletic going out to attack it meant an open game where the quality of Barca’s forward moves shone through.
They played with the rhythm and intensity to their passing game that had been missing since their golden spell under former coach Pep Guardiola. (Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)