Messi shows his worth amid salary leak furor

2021-02-02 12:06:41

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring Barcelona's opener in a 2-1 La Liga victory over Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on Sunday. Barca remains 10 points adrift of leader Atletico Madrid. REUTERS MADRID-Lionel Messi showed his worth yet again, curling home a stunning freekick to lead Barcelona to a 2-1 La Liga win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. The 650th goal in his Barcelona career came amid the noise prompted by Spanish newspaper El Mundo's report that the Argentine's contract is worth 555 million euros ($673 million) over four seasons. The Catalan club, mired in debt and political turmoil, denied its involvement in the leak and vowed to "take appropriate legal action" against the newspaper. Sources told ESPN that Messi plans to sue El Mundo. Antoine Griezmann also scored for Barcelona, which won its fifth in a row in the league and moved into second place for the first time this season. It has the same 40 points as Real Madrid but is ahead on goal difference. Atletico earlier opened a 10-point lead after winning 4-2 at Cadiz with a pair of goals by Luis Suarez. Messi, who had his request to leave Barcelona denied by the club last year, seemed unaffected by the leak Sunday of his contract details and was decisive again at Camp Nou. The 33-year-old opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a curled freekick that found the top corner for his 12th league goal of the season. "Messi has done a lot for this club and today he scored a great freekick goal," Barca coach Ronald Koeman said. "We have to respect him. It seems there is bad intention and a desire to hurt him. Without Messi you can't aspire too much." Athletic equalized with an own-goal by Jordi Alba as the defender tried to clear a cross by Raul Garcia in the 49th, and Griezmann put Barcelona ahead again, completing a cross by Oscar Mingueza in the 75th. It was the third meeting between Barcelona and Athletic this month, with the Catalan club winning a postponed league game and losing the Spanish Super Cup final. Athletic was trying to win its sixth consecutive match in all competitions. The loss was only its second since coach Marcelino Garcia Toral was signed in the beginning of the year-the first also was against Barca. It was Barcelona's first home match in 2021. It had played eight consecutive away games, including in the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup. Red-hot Suarez Suarez continued his stellar form with Atletico, scoring twice in the win over Cadiz to help Diego Simeone's team open a huge lead at the top. Suarez netted in each half to reach 14 La Liga goals this season, to shoot to the top of the competition's scoring chart. The Uruguay striker, who was let go by Barcelona at the end of last season, has scored nine goals in his last eight matches. "When a striker is on a roll, you have to take advantage of it," Suarez said. "You have to enjoy it because it's hard to stay at this level the whole year." It was the eighth league win in a row for Atletico, which has reached the season's halfway mark with a 10-point lead over Barcelona and Real Madrid, and with the bonus of having a game in hand. "Every match is an important step toward reaching our goal," Simeone said. "To continue like this we have to keep focused on match after match." Simeone's team has 50 points from 19 matches, remaining on pace for a 100-point season for the first time. "These are important numbers that put us at the top," Suarez said. "We have to stay on this path." Suarez opened the scoring with a freekick curler in the 28th and added his second from the penalty spot in the 50th. Saul Niguez netted before halftime and Spain playmaker Koke completed the scoring with two minutes remaining for Atletico, which is seeking its first league title since 2014. Cadiz, winless in its last three league matches and sitting 13th in the standings, notched goals from Alvaro Negredo in the 35th and 71st minutes. AP