Lionel Messi tonight reached another milestone in his illustrious career as he scored his 300th and 301st goal in La Liga as Barcelona overcame a resilient Sporting Gijon. Manager Luis Enrique made a number of changes to his squad with Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves and Andres Iniesta all taking a place on the bench with Jeremy Mathieu, Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan replacing these key players. Sporting Gijon also rested many first team players but allowed Barca loanee Alen Halilovic to play against his parent club.
Gijon made life difficult for the visitors and had the first clear chance of the game when Halilovic’s run and subsequent pass gave Menedez a brilliant chance to open the scoring. His shot beat Bravo in goal but also beat the post narrowly going wide. After this warning Barcelona began to show their class and it wasn’t long before the attacking trio of Messi,Suárez and Neymar began to trouble the Gijon goal. Luis Suárez was played through by Neymar with twenty minutes played and a fine save from Cuellar prevented what looked like a certain goal. However with 24 minutes played Lionel Messi created a goal out of nothing. He received a pass from Suárez outside the box, moved it onto his left foot and powered it low and hard into the bottom left hand corner of the goal with pinpoint accuracy. That was goal 300 for the Argentinian who celebrated appropriately.
Gijon were not deterred by Barcelona’s dominance and equalized just two minutes later. A quick counter attack exploited a gap in the Barca defence caused by Mathieu’s decision to go walkabout from the centre back position. A series of quick passes eventually found Menédez on the right of the box who squared it to the waiting Castro who finished the move despite the efforts of a sliding Sergio Busquets and outstretched Claudio Bravo. The two sides would remain level for just 4 minutes. Lionel Messi played a lofted through ball into the path of Suárez who held off a defender before laying the ball off to the onrushing Messi who rocketed the ball into the top corner of Cuellar’s near post to regain the lead. Neymar nearly made it 3-1 when his curling shot from the left hand side of the box hit the apex of the goal. A small mercy for Gijon.
The second half bore many similarities of the first. Barcelona dominated possession while Sporting looked to hit Barca on a quick counter attack. The first real chance came in the 60th minute when Neymar was fouled by the out rushing Cuellar resulting in a yellow card and a penalty. Lionel Messi passed the opportunity to complete his hat-trick instead handing the responsibility to Suárez. The Uruguayan stepped up and fired the penalty to the keepers right handside with Cuellar diving the right way saving his effort. Suárez was visibly annoyed with himself and made up for the miss when he picked up the ball on the right of the box with 66 minutes played. He turned one defender before composing himself and curling his shot in off the far post to extend Barcelona’s lead.
The only other event to note in the match was Sergio Busquet’s yellow card. That was his fifth of the season and as a result he will miss Saturday’s away trip to Las Palmas. This was likely a tactic employed by Enrique as a yellow against Las Palmas would rule him out of next week’s big clash at home against Sevilla. Lionel Messi was once again the Man of The Match as he captained Barcelona to a valuable victory.
This match was originally scheduled to be played in December but participation in the Club World Cub resulted in it being postponed until today. The win sees FC Barcelona move six points clear of second placed Atletico Madrid and seven clear of rivals Real Madrid. Enrique’s men now prepare to face Las Palmas of the Canary Islands on Saturday at 3:00pm GMT.