Nervy Barca beat Sociedad to remain on Real’s trail – La Liga
FC Barcelona 3-2 Real Sociedad
Lionel Messi scored twice to help a tired Barcelona see off Real Sociedad 3-2 at the Nou Camp and close the gap on Real Madrid to three points.
Messi opened the scoring in the 17th minute when he fired into the bottom corner from long range and his second came when Luis Suarez had his effort saved and it bounced into the path of the Argentine who tapped in.
Marc Andre ter Stegen flapped at a cross and punched it straight to the feet of Inigo Martinez who fired through the legs of the Barcelona stopper before it went in off Samuel Umtiti for an own-goal.
Minutes later, Messi turned provider, playing in Paco Alcacer, who took an excellent first touch before finishing cooly to momentarily restore the two-goal cushion.
Then a minute from the break, Xabi Prieto arrived unmarked into the area, coolly side-footing in a second for the visitors.
With the news that Real Madrid had left it late to see off Sporting Gijon to extend their lead to six points earlier in the day, Barcelona knew only a win would do.
Luis Enrique’s side came into the game on the back of two painful defeats, firstly to Malaga last Saturday and Tuesday’s emphatic 3-0 loss away to Juventus in the Champions League quarter-final.
Sociedad began confidently, sensing the cautiousness of the hosts and Yuri Berchiche had the first effort of note, but his strike was cleared away.
The deadlock was broken when Messi collected the ball from Suarez and with little back-lift, drilled a low shot beyond fellow Argentine Geronimo Rulli.
Alcacer fluffed his lines when well placed to score, but Barcelona would not have to wait long for a second and it was Messi who was once again the right man in the right place.
Suarez fired a fierce effort at Rulli, who did well to parry the attempt, but could only push it into the path of the Barcelona No.10 and he was never going to miss goal number 45 for the season, bringing him two shy from reaching 500 career goals.
All seemed to be going to plan for Barcelona against a side they had not lost to at home since 1991, but the Basque club were not going to give up.
When Ter Stegen punched unconvincingly at a header back across goal, Martinez controlled well and fired between the legs of the goalkeeper and it deflected in off of the unlucky Umtiti.
Sociedad barely had time to savour the moment when they found themselves yet another goal down. Unselfish play from Messi on the edge of the box saw him play in Alcacer who finished confidently.
However, Barcelona took their eye off the ball, quite literally and as a long ball sailed over the defence and onto the foot of Prieto and the veteran passed the ball into the bottom corner to end a frantic first half.
Barcelona emerged from the tunnel, but continued to look ragged for much of the second half and it was not long before Andres Iniesta was introduced to stem the tide of blue and white shirts.
Former Real Madrid midfielder Asier Illarramedi was having a brilliant game and nearly scored one of the goals of the season, but his audacious free-kick from just inside his own half was tipped over by a grateful Ter Stegen.
Statistics showed Sociedad were enjoying more possession and shots on target than Barcelona, but the hosts still remained ahead, but only just and were turning in a sloppy performance as they edged over the finish line in what was their 49th game of a gruelling season.
Juventus are next at the Nou Camp in the Champions League on Wednesday and Barca will then end the week with the small matter of a trip to the Bernabeu for El Clasico on Sunday evening.