BARCELONA – Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said Lionel Messi agreed to start as a substitute against Real Betis on Saturday, after the Argentine scored twice and helped his side to a 5-2 La Liga win having come on for the second half.
Messi had not begun a Barca game on the bench since a defeat by Granada in September 2019 and Koeman said his captain was feeling a bit of discomfort after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League.
“Since yesterday we were talking about some discomfort he was feeling since the game and we decided that the best thing was to leave him on the bench in case we needed him,” Koeman said.
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“He would have started if he hadn’t had any discomfort. We all know who he is and I don’t have any doubts about him, I see him work every day. He didn’t start but he was very important in the second half.”
Barca, who had failed to win their last four league outings, created lots of chances without Messi in a wide open first half. But they lacked his ruthlessness in front of goal as Ansu Fati and Antoine Griezmann missed the target in the early stages.
Griezmann then had a penalty saved by Claudio Bravo in the first period but Messi helped him make amends and restore Barca’s lead, pulling off a sensational dummy to allow the Frenchman to tap Jordi Alba’s cross into an empty net.
The Argentina forward made no mistake from the spot to make it 3-1 and later struck a second goal, his first from open play this season. He looked to have hit a hat-trick late on but saw his effort ruled out for offside.
“We deserved the victory and we also deserved to have scored more goals before halftime. We had a lot of chances and missed a penalty but only had a 1-1 scoreline to show for it,” Koeman added.
“But we showed the same spirit in the second half, we scored five goals and it could have been more. This is an important win, we really needed the three points after our recent results.”
Barca’s first league victory since Oct. 1 took them into eighth place in the table with 11 points from seven games.