MADRID: Barcelona might not be able to catch Atletico Madrid, but it may fancy its chances against Paris Saint-Germain after Lionel Messi scored twice in a 5-1 thrashing of Alaves on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Messi fired in two sensational long-range efforts and would have had a hat trick at Camp Nou had a dubious VAR decision in the first half not ruled Antoine Griezmann offside.
He did tee up a second of the night for 21-year-old Francisco Trincao and was instrumental in Junior Firpo’s adding a fifth too, a flamboyant scoop freeing Griezmann to send a pass to Firpo at the back post.
“Leo is focused. He’s happy. He’s ruthless. When we play those passes through the lines to him and he finds those gaps, everything is easier,” said Ronald Koeman.
Victory means Barca trails Atletico by eight points again after the leaders temporarily pulled 11 clear thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Granada earlier on Saturday.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have both played a game more than Atleti with Zinedine Zidane’s side facing Valencia at home on Sunday.
Atletico’s win was a significant psychological boost on the back of slipping up for the first time in nine games at home to Celta Vigo earlier this week.
The team’s advantage may prove too big to close, but Barcelona’s Champions League tie against PSG, which had the French side as a firm favorite when the draw was made in December, now feels harder to call.
The question is whether a free-flowing Barca attack, full of talent and orchestrated by Messi, can hurt PSG enough to make up for what remains a shaky defense, depleted by injuries and vulnerable to the counter-attack.