Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi kept his nerves and converted from the spot to give the Catalan club a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad in Las Liga on Saturday as the defending champions went back at the top of the domestic league table.
The 32-year-old playmaker kept his cool and chipped the ball into the net in the 81st minute of the match to score the lone goal that the fixture witnessed. Sociedad's Robin Le Normand was responsible for giving away the penalty as he was penalised for a handball following a VAR review by the referee. The goal came at a time when the Catalan giants were struggling to cope up with the continuous counterattacks of Sociedad as Basques missed a few chances to go one up at the Camp Nou in a scintillating second-half display.
Messi comes to the rescue
Sociedad's frustration at conceding the penalty was heightened when their former player Antoine Griezmann appeared to push over defender Nacho Monreal in the area but no foul was awarded. Barca looked to have scored a second goal deep in injury time when Jordi Alba slotted in a cross from substitute Ansu Fati but another VAR review determined that the teenage forward had been narrowly offside when he received the ball from Messi.
The victory took Barca back to the top of the standings on 58 points after 27 games although Real Madrid, on 56, can restore their place at the league summit by beating Real Betis on Sunday. "We won the game with the narrowest of margins but it keeps our hopes of winning the title alive," said Barca defender Gerard Pique, who also defended the decision to award his side the crucial penalty.
"We have seen several similar situations punished with a penalty recently so as soon as I saw it I thought it was handball," he added. Sociedad midfielder Mikel Merino was encouraged by his side's performance but was frustrated by the result. "We feel a mixture of feelings as we played really good football, had chances and dominated phases of the game but we lost due to a handball which was very questionable," he said.
Barca was under pressure after last week's 'Clasico' loss
Barca were under extra pressure to win after losing last week's 'Clasico' 2-0 away to Madrid and surrendering top spot to their rivals, and were up against a Sociedad side on a run of six straight victories in all competitions. Sociedad travelled to Barcelona in jubilant mood after booking their place in the Copa del Rey final for the first time in 32 years by seeing off Mirandes on Wednesday and coach Imanol Alguacil made a series of changes to his starting line-up.
Barca's latest arrival Martin Braithwaite made his first start for the home side and was their most lively player in the first half, combining well with Messi and twice forcing saves from visiting keeper Alex Remiro. Messi missed the target with his only effort before the interval and also looked rusty in the second half until he placed the ball on the spot and coolly dispatched it into the net.
(With agency inputs)