Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann fired Barcelona to a 2-1 win at home to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Sunday, avenging their recent defeat to the Basque side in the Spanish Super Cup final. Messi curled in a free kick after 20 minutes for his 650th Barca goal on the day the club pledged to sue Spanish newspaper El Mundo for publishing the full details of the Argentine’s contract.
The hosts missed several more opportunities before Athletic levelled in the 49th through a Jordi Alba own goal but Griezmann, who scored twice in the 3-2 Super Cup final defeat, restored the hosts lead in the 74th.
Ronald Koeman’s Barca side saw out the game to record a fifth straight Liga victory and move above Real Madrid on goal difference into second place on 40 points, 10 behind leaders Atletico Madrid who have a game in hand.
The day had begun with newspaper El Mundo revealing the total amount Barca had spent on Messi’s last contract with the club, also declaring the cost of the deal had ‘ruined’ Barca by causing their current financial crisis.
“I don’t understand how anyone could link Messi to Barca’s ruin. He has spent years proving his quality and doing great things for this club, helping it win many important trophies,” Koeman told a news conference.
“Whoever published this had bad intentions and wanted to cause Barca damage. But we have to be united and focused, we have to forget about whatever has been published. Without Leo we couldn`t aspire to win very much.
“We have known for a very long time that he is the best player in the world, he has done so much for this club and is decisive. We have to respect everything Messi has done.”
Barca have threatened to sue El Mundo for publishing confidential information and said they were not responsible for leaking the contract to the newspaper, although Koeman said the club needed to get to the bottom of the issue.
“If this was someone from the club they cannot have a future here,” he added.
Also on Sunday, La Liga President Javier Tebas described the publication of the contract as sensationalist journalism, adding that Barca were experiencing financial problems due to the coronavirus pandemic and not because of Messi's contract.
Suarez relishes free kick responsibility with Atletico
After spending six seasons watching on as Lionel Messi took most of Barcelona’s free kicks, Luis Suarez rediscovered his knack for striking dead balls with a superb goal in Atletico Madrid’s 4-2 win at Cadiz on Sunday.
Suarez fought off competition from Joao Felix and Thomas Lemar to try his luck from over 30 yards out and struck the ball to perfection, sending it over the wall and inside the near post to give Atletico the lead. “Being at Barcelona for so long and being alongside Leo, who used to take the free kicks, it was difficult, but I scored a few at Liverpool and with Uruguay and now I`m making the most of my opportunities,” Suarez told reporters.
“We talked about free kicks just the other day in training when we practised them. Tom (Lemar) was the best but today it was a bit further out so I asked him if I could take it and when a striker is on form you have to go for it.”
Suarez scored later in the game to make it 3-1 to Atletico from the penalty spot, moving on to 14 goals from 14 league starts to move clear at the top of the scoring charts.
“When a striker is on a run of goals you have to enjoy it and make the most of all the chances you get. It`s difficult to keep up that level throughout the year but I`ll try and help the team as much as I can,” added the Uruguayan.
Suarez is certainly helping Atletico with their pursuit of a first title since 2014 and they moved 10 points clear at the top of La Liga after an eighth league win in a row. Atletico coach Diego Simeone said he was not surprised to see Suarez score the free kick.
“The other day he, Joao and Lemar were practising them and we talked about it. Luis said he used to score a few goals from free kick and I said I had never seen him score so often,” said the coach.
Suarez scored only two free kick goals in six seasons with Barca compared with eight in three and a half campaigns with Liverpool. For Uruguay, he scored with a low free kick in the last World Cup against Russia.