BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi scored his first goals of Barcelona’s preseason as coach Ronald Koeman left Luis Suárez and Arturo Vidal off his team for a second friendly match on Wednesday.
Messi netted two goals and set up one more in a 3-1 victory over second-tier Girona, Barcelona’s second training match since Koeman took over as coach.
The goals were also Messi’s first since his failed attempt to leave the club this offseason, following a trophy-less season and the humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals. Messi told the club he wanted to leave, only to change his mind after Barcelona refused to allow him to go.
Barcelona posted a photo on Twitter of Messi and Koeman clasping hands when the star forward was substituted along with most of his teammates with half an hour to go. It seemed meant to deliver a message of unity between the player and manager amid one of the most tumultuous periods in the club’s recent history.
Barcelona is trying to find new homes for Suárez and Vidal, two players who at 33 years old do not fit into Koeman’s plans to rejuvenate the team.
Spanish media reported that Vidal is close to a move to Inter Milan. Juventus’ reported interest in Suárez appears to have cooled in recent days.
Koeman even left the door open to Suárez staying when the coach spoke after Wednesday’s victory.
“If Suárez ends up staying, he will be treated like any other member of this team,” Koeman said. “I spoke to him this morning and we still don’t know if he is going or staying.”
Girona offered little resistance to Barcelona’s attack, formed by new signing Francisco Trincão, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann and Messi.
Messi’s perfectly placed pass sent Trincão clear for the Portugal forward to square the ball to Coutinho, who only had to scoop in the 20th-minute opener.
Messi doubled the lead in the 45th with a shot from outside the area that went in off the upright.
Samuel Saiz got Girona on the scoreboard after halftime before Messi got his brace with a shot that took a deflection off a defender to fool the Girona goalkeeper.
Koeman said he was pleased with his young players, above all with American 19-year-old Konrad de la Fuente, who came on as a substitute four days after he made his debut in the friendly against Tarragona last weekend.
“If I have to pick one young player to single out, I will go with Konrad,” Koeman said. “I am happy with him, just like I am with Riqui (Puig) and (Pedro) “Pedri” (González).”
Koeman will have one more warm-up match against Elche on Saturday before Barcelona starts the Spanish league season against Villarreal on Sept. 27.