Incisive Messi leads thrilling Barca rally to lift week of gloom

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi

MADRID • Lionel Messi set up all three goals as Barcelona pulled off a gutsy 3-2 win at Real Betis after trailing twice in the La Liga match on Sunday, finally giving the Catalans something to celebrate after a week of upheaval.

Clement Lenglet headed home the winner in the 72nd minute from a Messi free kick, earning second-placed Barca a first away win in the league in four matches and cutting the deficit to Real Madrid back to three points.

French defender Lenglet was then sent off for two bookings, moments after Betis' Nabil Fekir had been dismissed for earning two yellow cards in the space of a minute.

Barca coach Quique Setien, making his first appearance back at Betis since being sacked by the Seville club last May, badly needed a victory after Real had beaten Osasuna 4-1 earlier in the day.

But Sergio Canales gave Betis a dream start in the sixth minute from the penalty spot after a video assistant referee review showed Lenglet had handled the ball.

Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong equalised after a lofted pass from Messi but Fekir restored Betis' lead in the 26th minute.

The Argentinian then proved pivotal just before half-time, when his free kick was converted by Sergio Busquets from close range.

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    Goals set up by Lionel Messi this season, the most in La Liga.

He is just the second player - after RB Leipzig's Timo Werner - to set up three goals in a game in Europe's top five leagues this season.

The topsy-turvy encounter was a fitting end to a dramatic week for Barca in which Ousmane Dembele sustained a serious injury, Messi lashed out at sporting director Eric Abidal, and the team lost 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao to exit the King's Cup before the semi-final stage for the first time in 10 years.

"There are things we could have done better, but I'm happy," Setien said. "We have come from behind twice."

Real also showed resilience by coming from behind to beat Osasuna - their own defiant response to their midweek King's Cup defeat by Real Sociedad.

Osasuna took the lead in the 14th minute when Unai Nunez scored with a diving header from a corner.

The visitors showed little sign of panic, however, as Isco, Sergio Ramos, and substitutes Lucas Vazquez and Luka Jovic gave them the win.

"It was an important game for us," Vazquez said. "It's really important in a difficult week. Winning in the way that we did says a lot about us."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Incisive Messi leads thrilling Barca rally to lift week of gloom'. Print Edition | Subscribe