Messi hits 40-goal milestone again as Barcelona returns to winning ways
Barcelona got back to its winning ways in La Liga–after its surprise, post-Champions League comeback loss at Deportivo la Coruna–beating 10-man Valencia 4-2 in a thrilling match Sunday. Outgoing coach Luis Enrique stuck with the three-man defense of Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano that worked so well in the 6-1 win over PSG, and although Valencia exploited some gaps in a breathless first half, Barcelona came out on top, and with lots of positives to boot.
For starters, Andres Iniesta completed his first 90 minutes since the start of January, while Andre Gomes, victim of boo-birds and a former Valencia player, scored his first goal for the club right at the death. Then there's Lionel Messi, who made it 40 goals again for his season in all competitions–an astounding eighth year in a row he has done that–while the club closed the gap on leader Real Madrid to just two at the top (though Real does maintain its game in hand).
“La Liga is still alive for us, our obligation is to be prepared if an opportunity arises,” Luis Enrique said. “We have to keep fighting in the event that a chance to take a step further arises.”
Gerard Pique was up to his old tricks again as well, taunting radio station Cadena SER, who suggested he might pick up a booking against Valencia to rule him out of the game against Granada ahead of April’s Sevilla clash. In response, the center back put out a Twitter poll asking if he should do an interview with the station during the international break. He gave four options, and ‘No, never again’ beat out ‘yes’ by 1%.
As for another wrinkle to come out of the match, Munir El-Haddadi, the Barcelona forward on loan at Valencia, scored an excellent goal against his parent club (and of course didn't celebrate). It was his sixth of the season and second against Barcelona (he also scored in the 3-2 loss last October). He is 21, and it is unlikely that he will get another chance at Camp Nou under a new coach next season. The current understudy to the Messi-Luis Suarez-Neymar front trident is Paco Alcacer, whose return since his transfer has been just two goals in 12 appearances, most as a sub. How many opportunities both players get next season–and where they come–will be interesting to see develop.