Messi escapes long ban for hitting opponent

Lionel Messi has been suspended for Barcelona’s next two matches after he hit an opponent in an off-the-ball incident in the Spanish Super Cup final. 

The Barcelona forward could have been banned for up to 12 matches for swinging his arm at an Athletic Bilbao player at the end of his team’s 3-2 loss on Sunday.

However, the federation’s competition committee did not deem the incident to be severe and applied a less severe penalty against the player. Barcelona have confirmed they will appeal against the decision.

After passing the ball out to the left-wing, Messi swung his right arm at the head of Athletic forward Asier Villalibre as they ran toward the box. Villalibre immediately fell to the ground and after a video review, Messi was given his first red card in 753 appearances for Barcelona.

Referee Gil Manzano said in his match report that Messi hit his opponent with excessive force while the ball was not near him.

Messi will miss Barcelona’s match against third-division club Cornell in the Copa del Rey and against Elche in the Spanish league.


Messi sent off as Athletic beat Barca in Super Cup

Lionel Messi was sent off for the first time in his Barcelona career in the closing stages of extra-time as they lost 3-2 to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday.

Messi, who returned to the starting line-up after missing the semi-final victory over Real Sociedad through injury, was dismissed after striking Asier Villalibre in the final minute.

The Argentine had been heavily involved in a more positive way as Barca took the lead five minutes before the break.

Lionel Messi was sent off for lashing out at Asier Villalibre
Lionel Messi was sent off for lashing out at Asier Villalibre

Messi’s goalbound effort was blocked, falling to the feet of Antoine Griezmann, who netted the first of his two goals.

Bilbao’s riposte was immediate as Oscar De Marcos met Inaki Williams’ cross two minutes later to send the sides in level at half-time.

Raul Garcia had a header disallowed for offside by VAR after the restart as Bilbao enjoyed the better chances in a tense affair.

However, French forward Griezmann looked to have won it for the Catalans with a goal against the run of play 14 minutes from time, only for substitute Villalibre to volley home in the 90th minute to send the game into the extra period.

Athletic Bilbao celebrate their Super Cup victory in extra time
Athletic Bilbao celebrate their Super Cup victory in extra-time

Three minutes into the additional half-hour, Williams curled a stunning effort into the far corner from the edge of the box to win the match for Marcelino Garcia’s side.

The victory brought a third Super Cup title for the Basque side and their first silverware since they claimed the same trophy in 2015 with a 5-1 aggregate win over Barca.


Spanish Super Cup: Barca need pens to see off Sociedad

Barcelona booked their place in the final of the Spanish Super Cup after overcoming the absence of injured Lionel Messi to beat Real Sociedad 3-2 in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw after extra time on Wednesday.

Barca midfielder Riqui Puig kept his cool to deceive keeper Alex Remiro and score the decisive fifth penalty, sending the Catalans into Sunday’s final in Seville, after team mates Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong had squandered their spot-kicks.

Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, Willian Jose and Jon Bautista had failed to score their kicks after the Basque side came close to finding a winning goal in a thrilling period of extra time following an unremarkable 90 minutes.

De Jong headed Barca in front in the 39th minute after nice link up play between Martin Braithwaite and Griezmann but the Dutchman committed a handball early in the second half and Sociedad’s Oyarzabal levelled from the spot.

Holders Real Madrid meet Athletic Bilbao on Thursday in the other semi-final of the competition, which is being held across southern Spain after initial plans to play it in Saudi Arabia were wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mikel Oyarzabal had equalised for Real Sociedad from the spot in normal time
Mikel Oyarzabal had equalised for Real Sociedad from the spot in normal time

Messi missed Barca’s warm-up session on the morning of the game due to thigh discomfort and Braithwaite took his place up front, while young central defender Oscar Mingueza came in at right back to deputise for Sergino Dest, who was not fully fit.

Sociedad, who made a blistering start to the La Liga season but have since faded, ran their hearts out to keep Barca at bay in a tight match before the game split in extra time, when both sides came close to finding a winner.

Griezmann volleyed straight at Remiro, while Ousmane Dembele was also thwarted by the keeper, while Barca’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen produced two stunning saves to deny Joseba Zaldua and Adnan Januzaj.

Barca have won the Super Cup a record 13 times but lost to Atletico Madrid at the semi-final stage of last year’s competition and coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked as a result, despite the team then sitting top of La Liga.


Final candidates in crucial Barca election confirmed

Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa are the final three candidates left in the race to become the next president of Barcelona.

Former president Laporta, whose reign lasted from 2003 to 2010, received the most validated signatures of the three remaining candidates, according to a club statement.

Barcelona also said another candidate, Emili Rousaud, withdrew his bid earlier on Thursday during the validation process.

The outcome of the election, which is scheduled to take place on January 24, will have huge implications for the future of Lionel Messi and whether he stays at the club beyond the end of this season when his deal expires.

Messi has said he is not backing any of the candidates in this month’s election, as he tries to distance himself from proceedings, and insists he has not spoken with any of them.

The Argentina international put in a transfer request at Barcelona at the end of last season, but the club’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu would not let him leave the Nou Camp, despite claims from Messi’s camp that there was a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave for free.

Ronald Koeman and Lionel Messi
Ronald Koeman and Lionel Messi’s futures could be decided by this month’s election

Messi has not been shy to highlight that he feels the club is in bad shape and hopes the next president of Barcelona has a clear plan to return the club to its former glory.

Messi 360: The view from… Barcelona

There is not a great deal that Barcelona’s interim board can do to help persuade Messi to stay and sign another contract before the election. That job will be in the hands of the new president.

For that, there are really only two favourites for the job; Joan Laporta, who has been president before, and Victor Font, the telecommunications entrepreneur.

While there is no indication that Messi prefers either, and the player has been keeping well out of the way of the debate so far, Laporta has a good relationship with him having overseen the most successful period in the club’s history with Guardiola as head coach.

And Laporta said recently he would do “everything possible” to keep Messi if he returns for another spell at the helm

Font, meanwhile, wants to rebuild Barca from the bottom up; producing its players from La Masia academy, and he has been working with one of its best products – Messi’s former team-mate Xavi – to return as head coach.

Xavi is expected to be among Laporta’s considerations too but, on Messi, Font has said: “I’m convinced that with a competitive, exciting and, especially in Messi’s case, long-term project – one that could even go beyond the day that Messi retires – we will convince him to stay.”

The frontrunners will begin to emerge this month, and they are expected to indicate who will take up key positions in the hierarchy. These developments will have a mark on Messi’s thinking, but it is really only when the election is made, and a firm blueprint put forward, that a significant bearing on Messi’s future will be made.


Pochettino claims first PSG win; Messi, Griezmann doubles

Mauricio Pochettino delivered his first win in charge at Paris Saint-Germain with a 3-0 home victory over Brest.

In-form Moise Kean, on loan from Everton, opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a header for his ninth goal of the campaign.

PSG, who had drawn 1-1 against St Etienne last time out, finally settled matters late on through Mauro Icardi (81) and a long-range effort by substitute Pablo Sarabia (83).

The gap to Lyon is down to just one point after the leaders had to fight back to earn a 2-2 draw at Rennes.

Clement Grenier (20) and Benjamin Bourigeaud (55) had seemingly put the home side in control, with Lyon appearing set to see their 15-game unbeaten run end at Roazhon Park.

In-form Moise Kean opened the scoring to send Pochettino towards his first win in charge of PSG
In-form Moise Kean opened the scoring to send Pochettino towards his first win in charge of PSG – AP photo

However, after Jason Denayer saw a goal ruled out by VAR for handball, Lyon recovered when Memphis Depay volleyed in his 11th goal of the season in the 79th minute. The Dutchman then crossed for Denayer to head in the equaliser three minutes later.

Third-placed Lille won 1-0 away to Nimes, with a first-half goal from Burak Yilmaz, and remain level on points with PSG.

Elsewhere, Monaco beat Angers 3-0 to move fourth, while Marseille were held to a goalless draw at strugglers Dijon.

Strasbourg won 1-0 at Lens, Remi Oudin scored twice as Bordeaux beat relegation-battlers Lorient 2-1 and John Boye’s late goal gave Metz a 1-1 home draw against Nice.

It finished 1-1 between Montpellier and Nantes, with Boulaye Dia scoring twice as Reims beat Saint-Etienne 3-1.

La Liga: Real failed to capitalise on Atletico postponement

Real Madrid missed the chance to make the most of LaLiga title rivals Atletico having their match postponed by snow after being held to a goalless draw at struggling Osasuna.

With the Spanish capital hit by the wintery blast of Storm Filomena, Atletico‘s clash against Athletic Bilbao had been postponed.

Real, though, were left frustrated in freezing conditions at El Sadar, where Karim Benzema and captain Sergio Ramos both had goals disallowed for offside.

Atletico are still a point clear, having played three matches less, while Osasuna stay 19th following a fourth successive league draw.

Barcelona cruised past Granada and Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann starred. Pic: AP
Barcelona cruised past Granada and Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann starred – AP photo

Barcelona moved up to third with a comfortable 4-0 win at Granada, who finished with 10 men.

Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi each scored twice as Ronald Koeman’s men extended their unbeaten run to eight matches.

Granada had Jesus Vallejo sent off late on for tripping Barca substitute Martin Braithwaite on the edge of the penalty area.

Griezmann AP
Antonie Griezmann scored twice as Barcelona cruised to victory – AP photo

Meanwhile, Youssef En-Nesyri scored a hat trick as Sevilla beat Real Sociedad 3-2 in a thriller that featured four goals in the opening quarter of an hour.

En-Nesyri opened the scoring in the fourth minute from a pass by Fernando. Just one minute later, an own goal by Sevilla’s Diego Carlos came when he attempted to knock the ball away from Aleksander Isak.

While his first goal was a simple tap into an open net, En-Nesyri’s second goal in the seventh minute was a work of beauty. The Morocco striker dribbled past three defenders before beating the Sociedad goalkeeper with a low strike.

Isak then made it 2-2 from a corner kick that reached him unmarked at the far post. But En-Nesyri netted the winner in the 46th minute, after firing in a low cross by Lucas Ocampos.

Bundesliga – Haaland double in Dortmund win

Haaland AP
Erling Haaland also scored twice as Borussia Dortmund denied RB Leipzig top spot in the Bundesliga – AP photo

Erling Haaland scored twice for Borussia Dortmund to deny RB Leipzig top spot in the Bundesliga with a 3-1 win.

Leipzig was hoping to take advantage of Bayern Munich’s 3-2 loss at Borussia Moenchengladbach on Friday but remain a point behind the league leaders after slumping to their first home defeat of the season.

Neither side impressed in a cagey first half before Dortmund seized the initiative in the second. Jadon Sancho followed up his first league goal of the season against Wolfsburg last weekend with the opener in the 55th minute. Marco Reus set up Sancho with his heel and the England forward fired inside the left post.

Haaland struck the crossbar and Dani Olmo responded by hitting the post for Leipzig.

The Norway forward went one better in the 71st minute when Sancho set him up to score with a header after some fine team interplay from Dortmund. Then Reus sent Haaland through to round goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and seal the win late on.

Matthew Hoppe, AP
Matthew Hoppe scored a hat-trick for Schalke in their first Bundesliga win in 30 games – AP photo

Substitute Alexander Sorloth’s 89th-minute strike was too little, too late for Leipzig. Dortmund climb to fourth, three points behind RB Leipzig, after their third win in four games under new coach Edin Terzic.

American forward Matthew Hoppe scored a hat-trick in Schalke’s first victory for almost a year, helping his club avoid matching Tasmania Berlin’s old Bundesliga record for consecutive winless games.

Schalke’s 4-0 win over visiting Hoffenheim ended their 30-game wait for a league win. Tasmania had gone 31 straight games without a win during the 1965/66 season.

The 19-year-old Hoppe had not scored before for Schalke, but he opened his account with a brilliant chip over Oliver Baumann in the 42nd minute, then rounded the Hoffenheim goalkeeper, before completing a game to remember with his third goal in the 63rd minute. All three were set up by Amine Harit, who rounded off the scoring late on.

Bo Svensson’s debut as Mainz coach ended in a 2-0 defeat to visiting Eintracht Frankfurt, Freiburg routed relegation-threatened Cologne 5-0 at home, Bayer Leverkusen drew at home with Werder Bremen 1-1, and Union Berlin and Wolfsburg drew 2-2.

Serie A – Milan consolidate lead; Wins for Atalanta and Genoa

Josip Ilicic appears to be back to his best after inspiring Atalanta to a 4-1 win at Benevento in Serie A.

Ilicic scored Atalanta’s opener, hit the post and had a hand in another two goals for Rafael Toli and Duvn Zapata after Marco Saus equaliser. Luis Muriel netted a spectacular fourth for Atalanta.

Genoa moved out of the relegation zone after beating Bologna 2-0.

Bologna dominated possession but struggled to create anything of note. Genoa midfielder Miha Zajc and Mattia Destro scored.

Genoa move two points above 18th-placed Torino. New coach Davide Ballardini has won two of his four matches in charge since replacing Rolando Maran last month.

Meanwhile, later on Saturday night, first-half goals from Rafael Leao and Brahim Diaz saw AC Milan ease to a 2-0 win over Torino.

Torino offered little in attack, with their best chance falling to substitute Jacopo Segre late on, forcing a decent save out of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

The win consolidates Milan’s place at the top of the league, with closest rivals Roma and Inter set to face each other on Sunday.