Messi’s late goal puts Barcelona back on top in Spain
Messi converted an 81st-minute penalty kick awarded by VAR as Barcelona salvaged a 1-0 win over gritty Real Sociedad at Camp Nou Stadium.
Barcelona’s hard-fought win followed last weekend’s loss in the “clásico” against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Madrid now trails Barcelona by two points but has a chance to retake the lead when it visits struggling Real Betis on Sunday.
It was Barcelona’s 22nd straight home win against Sociedad in the league. The Catalan club has not lost points against the Basque Country team at Camp Nou since a 1995 draw.
Messi calmly converted the penalty with a low shot to the corner for his league-leading 19th goal of the season. The penalty was awarded after video review determined a handball by Sociedad defender Robin Le Normand. The foul was not immediately called and Sociedad had a chance of its own more than a minute later before VAR could intervene.
“We got the goal thanks to the VAR, but we had already had other chances to score,” Barcelona coach Quique Setién said. “We struggled at moments but created dangerous chances.”
The lackluster performance drew a few jeers from home fans. Some also jeered embattled club president Josep Bartomeu.
Video review also called off a goal by Barcelona defender Jordi Alba late into second-half stoppage time because substitute Ansu Fati was offside before making a pass to Alba, who had celebrated by covering his ears with his fingers.
“Nobody likes to see the fans against you,” Alba said.
Forward Martin Braithwaite made his first start since joining from Leganés this month, playing alongside Messi and Antoine Griezmann up front.
Sociedad looked dangerous on counterattacks but couldn’t capitalize on its chances.
“We deserved at least a draw for how we played,” Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil said.
The Basque club stayed in sixth place, three points behind fourth-place Getafe in the final qualification spot for the Champions League next season.
Sociedad had won three in a row in the league and last week clinched a spot in the Copa del Rey final for the first time in more than three decades. It will play Basque rival Athletic Bilbao in the April 18 final.
Amid global fears over the new coronavirus, there were a few fans wearing masks in the crowd of more than 77,000 at Camp Nou.
Fifth-place Atlético Madrid remained outside the Champions League spots after a 2-2 draw against third-place Sevilla at home.
The result left Atlético one point behind Getafe, which drew 0-0 at home against relegation-threatened Celta Vigo. Diego Simeone’s team was two points behind Sevilla.
Sevilla opened the scoring with a 19th-minute goal by Luuk de Jong, but Atlético rallied with goals from Álvaro Morata in the 32nd and João Félix in the 36th. Sevilla evened the match again in the 43rd with a penalty converted by Lucas Ocampos.
Ocampos’ and Morata’s goals came after penalty kicks awarded after long delays for video review.
Morata hadn’t scored in eight consecutive matches. His last league goal was last year at Betis.
Sevilla, unbeaten in four league games, has scored at least a goal in 19 straight league games, its best mark since 1962.
It is the first time Atlético has drawn 12 of its first 27 league games.
Kubo, on loan from Real Madrid, scored with a low shot from outside the area to give Mallorca its first win in 13 away matches.
Dani Rodríguez had opened the scoring for the visitors in the 42nd. Eibar’s lone goal came from Pedro Bigas in second-half injury time.
Mallorca stayed inside the relegation zone despite the win, while Eibar was two points above the drop zone.