Messi plays 750th game for Barça, Suárez leads Atlético win
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi set up Frenkie de Jong for a goal to help earn a 1-0 win at Huesca on Sunday in the Argentine great’s 750th overall appearance for Barcelona and his 500th in the Spanish league.
The 33-year-old Messi trails only Xavi Hernández as the Barcelona player with the most games played. Xavi played 767 games in all competitions, including 505 la Liga matches.
Messi’s latest milestone came less than two weeks after
Barcelona dominated last-place Huesca but could only manage De Jong's goal in the 27th minute. Messi lobbed a pass forward to meet De Jong’s run behind the defense, with the Netherlands midfielder steering the ball inside the upright.
Coach Ronald Koeman said the goal was an example of how he wants his midfielders to join the attack, especially when Messi drifts out of the area to become a playmaker.
“It was a great pass from Messi and a good goal,” Koeman said. “And that is what I like from my midfielders. The spaces left by Messi or Pedri — we have to occupy those positions.”
Huesca goalkeeper Álvaro Fernández saved Messi’s two chances, preventing him from adding to his league record of 451 goals. He blocked a free kick just before halftime and smothered shot from close range in the 68th.
Both Ousmane Dembele and Pedro “Pedri” González went close to scoring and set up teammates for good chances in a strong first half by Barcelona. Antoine Griezmann only went on as a late substitute.
Barcelona’s win came after Messi sat out a 1-1 draw with Eibar last round to recover from an ankle problem.
The victory moved Barcelona ahead of Sevilla into fifth place.
Koeman’s team is 10 points behind leader Atlético Madrid, which got a late goal from Luis Suárez to win 2-1 at Alavés.
Atlético was moments from enduring a setback against an Alavés that played with 10 men for almost half an hour.
That was when Suárez came through with the 90th-minute winner. The former Barcelona striker scored from close range completing a cross by João Félix shortly after Atlético had conceded an equalizer.
Suárez also helped Atlético take the lead with a 41st-minute assist to Marcos Llorente, who cleared three defenders outside the area before firing a low shot that deflected off a defender before finding the net.
Alavés lost defender Victor Laguardia with a straight red card determined by video review for a hard foul on Thomas Lemar. The hosts equalized in the 84th when Atlético defender Felipe found his own net while trying to clear a cross inside the area.
The win gave Atlético a two-point lead over second-place Real Madrid, which defeated Celta Vigo 2-0 at home on Saturday. Atlético has two games in hand on its city rival.
“We had the game in hand, we didn’t put it away, then came their goal," Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. "The best part about today’s game was how the team handled the final minutes without getting nervous. The goal was a good one, with our No. 9 just where he should be.”
Simeone’s team has won 11 of its past 12 league matches, with the only setback a 2-0 loss at Madrid four rounds ago.
Alavés, which stayed in 11th place, has one win in its its past six matches.
BILBAO FIRES COACH
Athletic Bilbao fired coach Gaizka Garitano after it defeated struggling Elche 1-0 at home thanks to a goal by Iker Muniain.
The club then announced it had reached an agreement in principle to
Teenager Byran Gil scored his first two goals for Eibar to lead its 2-0 victory over Granada.
The 19-year-old Spaniard has impressed with his dribbling, vision and passing skills since his loan move from Sevilla this season.
Gil got his first goal in the 55th when he rushed into the area to finish off a penalty kick that had been saved by Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva. He added a second goal with a precise strike from outside the area in the 76th.
Third-place Real Sociedad was held 1-1 at home by Osasuna, leaving it eight points behind Atlético.
Sociedad, which led the league earlier this season, has just one win in eight rounds.
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