Lionel Messi was at the top of his game as Barcelona earned a 3-2 win at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday to move up to third in La Liga.
Athletic got off to a dream start in their first match under new coach Marcelino when forward Inaki Williams latched on to a low through ball and raced towards goal, beating one defender before firing low into the net in the third minute.
Barca quickly responded, however, with a sensational team goal, Messi delivering a superb pass to pick out Frenkie de Jong by the byline and the Dutchman volleyed the ball back across the area for 18-year-old Pedri to head home.
Messi and Pedri combined beautifully to put Barca ahead, the youngster receiving a pass from the Argentine before returning it with a delightful backheel and Messi rolled the ball into the bottom corner in the 38th minute.
Messi struck again in the 62nd minute to finish off another brilliant team move and missed a couple of chances to complete his hat-trick, although Iker Muniain made for a tense finale by scoring for Athletic in the 90th.
Barca clung on to earn a first win in four matches away to Athletic, having failed to score on their last three trips to San Mames.
The win took Ronald Koeman’s side above Real Sociedad and into third in the standings on 31 points, seven behind leaders Atletico Madrid who have two games in hand on the Catalans.
“When you concede so early it’s normal to drop your heads but we showed a lot of self-belief to make sure that didn’t happen,” said Pedri.
“We knew it was an important game that’s how we approached it, we knew they’d look for Inaki with his speed but we overcame that and got three very important points.”
Athletic forward Williams said his side had played well but were powerless to stop Barca when Messi was on top form.
“We played a good first half, we were the Athletic we wanted to be but we were up against the best player in the world and he swung the game in a different direction,” he said.
“The goals they scored tonight were fantastic and there’s very little you can do to defend against plays like that.”
Pochettino makes underwhelming start as PSG draw at St Etienne
Paris St Germain were held to a 1-1 Ligue 1 draw at St Etienne in coach Mauricio Pochettino’s first game in charge on Wednesday as the French champions failed to make their possession count.
Moise Kean cancelled out Romain Hamouma’s opener in the first half but PSG were unable to find the net again as they let Olympique Lyonnais, who beat RC Lens 3-2, open up a three-point lead at the top of the standings.
PSG did, however, move up to second on 36 points from 18 games, leapfrogging Lille on goal difference after the northeners slumped to a 2-1 home defeat by Angers.
“It was a difficult game. We need to keep working. I’m not looking for excuses, we need to improve the way we play and to improve our performances,” said Pochettino.
“We are PSG, we must win. I arrived three days ago but I’m happy with the way the players tried to apply what we worked on during practice.”
Elsewhere, former France coach Raymond Domenech returned to the bench with Nantes, 10 years after Les Bleus were knocked out in the first round of the 2010 World Cup in embarrassing fashion, with the Canaries held to a 0-0 home draw by fourth-placed Stade Rennais.
Four days after being named as successor to Thomas Tuchel, who led the club to their first Champions League final last August, Pochettino was left contemplating the task at hand following PSG’s lacklustre performance at Geoffroy Guichard.
St Etienne took the lead in the 19th minute when Hamouma fired home after Idrissa Gueye had been dispossessed in front of the area.
Kean equalised three minutes later with a shot on the turn after a clever deflection by Marco Verratti from Kylian Mbappe’s cross.
PSG enjoyed nearly 70% of possession, but in the absence of Neymar, still recovering from an ankle injury, lacked stamina and inspiration while Mbappe had yet another match to forget.
Verratti, positioned high up on the pitch as a playmaker, was decisive for PSG’s goal but the Italy midfielder was otherwise as uninspired as the rest of the team in a disappointing performance by the French champions.
St Etienne, who are 14th on 19 points, went close to bagging all three points 20 minutes from time when Denis Bouanga’s header hit the crossbar.
Lyon were kept on their toes until the final whistle despite opening up a 3-0 lead against RC Lens courtesy of a Memphis Depay double and a Steven Fortes own goal.
Lens hit back with second-half goals by Florian Sotoca and Cheick Doucoure but came up just short and the promoted side are eighth on 27 points.
Sixth-placed AS Monaco made up for defensive blunders with a scintillating attacking display in a 5-2 victory at Lorient.
Juventus hand AC Milan first loss of season
Juventus inflicted a first Serie A defeat of the season on league leaders AC Milan as a Federico Chiesa double led the Italian champions to an exhilarating 3-1 win at San Siro on Wednesday.
Chiesa fired home a superb opener before makeshift midfielder Davide Calabria equalised for Milan at the end of an eventful, end-to-end first half.
But the visitors pulled away after the break as Chiesa curled in his second and substitute Weston McKennie swept in from close range to consign Milan to their first league defeat since March 8, 2020, a run of 27 games lasting 304 days.
Stefano Pioli’s side remain top of the table on 37 points, one ahead of second-placed Inter Milan, who lost to Sampdoria earlier on Wednesday.
Juventus rise to fourth place on 30 points, but have a game in hand over the three teams above them.
Milan coach Pioli was forced to play right back Calabria in midfield after Rade Krunic and Ante Rebic were ruled out on matchday following positive COVID-19 tests, adding to an absentee list including Sandro Tonali, Ismael Bennacer, Alexis Saelemaekers and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Juventus had issues of their own, with Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro in isolation and Alvaro Morata injured, but the selection problems did not impact the quality of an action-packed opening period.
Chiesa blasted a powerful half-volley off the post before finding the breakthrough in the 18th minute, when a clever backheeled pass from Paulo Dybala sent the Italy international through on goal to finish.
Rafael Leao curled a shot narrowly wide and Chiesa had another effort saved before Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s diving save stopped an Aaron Ramsey clearance from flying into his own net.
Milan hit back four minutes before the break when Leao picked out Calabria in the box and he fired into the top corner.
The tempo dropped slightly in the second half and Juventus took control on 62 minutes when Chiesa curled a left-footed shot into the bottom corner.
The winger was forced off after hurting himself in the process, but the strength of the Juve bench showed when two replacements combined for their third.
Dejan Kulusevski weaved into the box from the wing and laid off a pass to McKennie, who was left with a simple finish from six yards.
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