Lionel Messi came off the bench to score twice and lead Barcelona to a 5-2 home victory over Real Betis on Saturday, snapping a four-game winless streak in La Liga for the Catalans.
Antoine Griezmann, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele also scored for Barca while Antonio Sanabria and Loren Moron replied for Betis, who had Aissa Mandi sent off on the hour-mark.
Barca’s first league victory since beating Celta Vigo on Oct. 1 took them into eighth in the table with 11 points from seven games. Real Sociedad lead the standings with 17.
Barca’s captain was surprisingly left out of the starting lineup by coach Ronald Koeman, who later explained that Messi was feeling a little discomfort after the 2-1 win over Dynamo Kyiv in mid-week and had agreed to start on the bench.
Koeman’s side played well in the first half without Messi but missed a slew of clear opportunities and found themselves drawing 1-1 when Sanabria cancelled out Dembele’s superb opening strike on the stroke of halftime.
Messi was brought on at the start of the second period and promptly produced a sublime dummy to allow Griezmann to tap into an unguarded net and put Barca back in front in the 49th minute, the Frenchman finally making amends for missing four chances before the break including squandering a penalty.
Barca’s all-time top scorer Messi then further stretched their lead in the 61st by emphatically dispatching a penalty after Aissa Mandi was shown a straight red card, following a VAR review, for using his arm to block a shot from Dembele.
“The whole squad prefers it when Messi is on the pitch because he obviously gives you more options to win the game,” said Barca’s Jordi Alba.
“Today he came on and changed the game, he is a different player to everybody else and we were a different team when he was on the pitch.”
Koeman added: “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.”
Betis did manage to pull a goal back with 10 men when striker Loren netted at the far post to make it 3-2 after a marauding run down the left wing by Alex Moreno.
But Messi soon put the game beyond doubt, smashing the ball into the top corner after receiving a wonderful backheel from team mate Sergi Roberto, while 17-year-old Pedri struck the fifth after another fine pass from Sergi Roberto.
“The manager made a decision to not start him and in the second half he really helped us to go on and win the game,” added Alba.
“We all prefer it when he is on the pitch, we’re better with him around.”
Red hot Joao Felix leads Atletico rout of Cadiz
Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix played a starring role with two goals and an assist as they crushed visitors Cadiz 4-0 on Saturday to continue their rampant run of domestic form and go top of La Liga.
Club record signing Felix put Atletico ahead in the eighth minute, heading a cross from Marcos Llorente into an unguarded net after Cadiz goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma had fallen over as he tried to catch a long punt into the box.
Llorente doubled Atleti’s advantage midway through the first half with a finish inside the near post to cap a week in which he was called up to the Spain squad for the first time.
Luis Suarez then combined with Felix to put Atletico further on top early in the second half, his goal being initially ruled out for offside then awarded following a VAR review.
Felix completed the rout with a ruthless finish in added time after a quick break involving substitutes Lucas Torreira and Angel Correa, netting a double for the third time in four matches in all competitions.
A fourth straight league win sent Atletico to the summit on goal difference, level on 17 points with second-placed Real Sociedad, who have played a game more, and one point ahead of Real Madrid in third.
Felix and Suarez, meanwhile, lead the scoring charts alongside Sociedad forward Mikel Oyarzabal with five goals each.
Cadiz have the best away record in La Liga and before facing Atletico they had not even conceded a goal on their travels since returning to the top flight this season, even managing to beat champions Real Madrid last month.
But they were little match for Atletico, who dominated the play and were ruthless in taking their chances.
After going through what coach Diego Simeone described as a transitional season last year, they now look like genuine title contenders.
“We have taken a big step forward this season. All the new players that arrived last season have integrated into the team and started learning what the coach wants from us,” said goalscorer Llorente.
“We can see on the pitch that we are a great team and are very united. We are all working for each other and the results are going our way.”
French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia made his debut by coming on late in the second half after signing from Valencia last week, further strengthening Simeone’s side.
Lewandowski on target as Bayern again prove too strong for Dortmund
Bayern Munich continued their recent dominance over old rivals Borussia Dortmund on Saturday, coming from behind to win 3-2 away in the Bundesliga with Robert Lewandowski scoring his 11th goal of the season.
Midfielder David Alaba was also on target for the Bavarians after a turbulent week in which the club publicly withdrew its offer to renew his contract, leaving the long-serving Austrian “hurt and disappointed.”
Bayern, who stayed top of the Bundesliga with 18 points from seven games, have won all four of their meetings with Dortmund since Hansi Flick took over as coach, including the league double last season. Dortmund are third with 15 points, one behind RB Leipzig.
Bayern thought they had gone ahead in the 25th minute when Lewandowski swept Serge Gnabry’s low cross into the net but, after a long VAR check, the goal was disallowed because the Pole’s right knee was offside.
Having survived that, Dortmund took the lead. Jadon Sancho sent Raphael Guerreiro into the box and he cut the Portuguese back for Reus to sidefoot into the net in the 45th minute.
Dortmund, who had conceded only two league goals all season before Saturday, then let in two in five minutes either side of the break.
Gnabry played a free kick short to Thomas Mueller who teed it up for Alaba to equaliser with a deflected shot in first-half stoppage time.
Within three minutes of the restart, Lucas Hernandez whipped in a cross from the left and Lewandowski got in front of Mats Hummels to scored with a powerful header.
Dortmund, who missed several chances throughout the game with topscorer Erling Haaland among the culprits, and fell further behind in the 80th minute.
Bayern broke up a Dortmund attack and the ball was quickly played up to substitute Leroy Sane who cut inside and scored with a low shot into the far corner.
Dortmund were not finished as Haaland ran onto Guerreiro’s dinked pass to round Manuel Neuer and pull one back with seven minutes left.
Reus volleyed over from Guerreiro’s cross before Lewandowski had another goal chalked off in stoppage time.
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