Frenkie de Jong is unsure of Barcelona's title credentials despite their improving LaLiga form.

De Jong scored the opener and created a late second for substitute Riqui Puig during Sunday's 2-0 win at Elche.

That made it four wins out of four for Barca in Spain's top flight since the turn of the year, although they will be 10 points behind Atletico Madrid having played a game more if the leaders are able to beat Valencia in Sunday's late kick-off.

"I'm not sure," he told LaLiga TV when asked whether Ronald Koeman's side are back in the title race.

"We have to win our games and we'll see where we end up towards the end of the season."

Nevertheless, the Netherlands midfielder has no doubt Barca are an improved side after a tough start to life under his former national team boss Koeman.

"Since the new year we're a lot better and we've played most of the games away from home and won all of them in LaLiga. We're in a better moment," De Jong said.

"I think [beating Elche] will do us good, we've worked hard, especially now in the new year. We're growing and improving as a team and hopefully we can keep improving."

De Jong's tally of five goals across his season-and-a-half with Barca has already bettered his total of Eredivisie strikes for Ajax (four) across five campaigns, and the 23-year-old also feels that the imperative to improve applies to him personally, even after a man-of-the-match display.

"Yes, I do think I can play better but it’s not only about goals and assists," he added. "Of course I'm happy but there's more to come."

Frenkie de Jong played a prominent role as Barcelona beat LaLiga strugglers Elche 2-0 to stay in touch with the leading pack.

Lionel Messi completed his two-match suspension for a red card during the Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao and Barca struggled to create clear chances in his absence against well-organised opponents.

But an error from Diego Gonzalez allowed De Jong to take advantage in the 39th-minute – the Netherlands international unlikely to score an easier one than his fifth LaLiga goal.

A minute from time, De Jong then turned provider as he crossed for Riqui Puig to head home, ensuring Barca are three points behind Real Madrid, although they will be 10 points shy of Atletico Madrid again if the leaders are able to beat Valencia later on Sunday.

Ronald Koeman declared he must be the wrong coach for Barcelona if he cannot be allowed to criticise the team for falling short of required standards.

The Dutchman is approaching six months in charge of the Camp Nou giants and he expressed frustration on Thursday when his team needed extra time to see off third-tier minnows Cornella in the Copa del Rey.

Miralem Pjanic and Ousmane Dembele missed penalties, and that factor particularly stuck in the craw for Koeman, a spot-kick expert in his playing days.

Koeman said his players needed to "have more responsibility", adding: "You can't miss two penalties as Barcelona players."

Those forthright comments have come in for plenty of scrutiny in Spain, and Koeman was asked about their impact on his players when he spoke on Saturday, ahead of a LaLiga trip to face Elche for which Lionel Messi is suspended.

"I am not going to lie. I say what I see," said the former Everton, Netherlands and Ajax boss.

"If you are a Barca player, you have to be demanding. I criticise them with respect. I'm not going for anyone, I want to help them, but if we play against Cornella with all due respect and we are not able to win in 90 minutes, I have to say what I see.

"If not, bring in another coach."

Koeman pointed to Barcelona's dismal overall penalty record this season, including the Supercopa semi-final shoot-out against Real Sociedad.

He said: "Every player can miss a penalty but to miss seven out of 12 is too much.

"The number one to take penalties is Leo [Messi] but if he's not there on the pitch to take it we must have other players to have the responsibility to score from the penalty spot.

"Yesterday and today we trained that to improve."

Sunday's clash with Elche will be a seventh successive game away from Camp Nou for Barcelona, including their Supercopa games last week.

Barcelona have struck on strong form in LaLiga and had moved up to third place heading into the weekend.

However, leaders Atletico Madrid stood 10 points ahead of them, with their rise driven to a large part by the goals of Luis Suarez, the striker Barcelona allowed to leave in the close season.

Suarez, third on Barcelona's all-time scorers list, has 11 goals in 14 league games for his new club.

Asked if Barcelona are missing Suarez, Koeman said: "I don't like answering that. You only ask me when he scores. He is a great player, I wish him the best of luck, but the decision has been made."

Koeman would love to bring new players to Barcelona, but the club's finances have been heavily hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Any possibility of a new club president launching his tenure with marquee recruits was scotched when elections, due to take place this Sunday, were delayed.

"My position is known: we lack people, but the economic situation of the club is an influence," Koeman said. "I think we all think the same. If no one arrives, I accept it and we continue the same, but if we want more we must sign."

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was furious that his side missed two penalties in their Copa del Rey victory over Cornella.

The Catalans required extra time to overcome the Segunda B side, with Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite eventually securing a 2-0 win.

Cornella goalkeeper Ramon Juan had otherwise kept Barca at bay, making seven saves including two from the spot to deny Miralem Pjanic in the first half and Dembele in the second.

Those missed opportunities forced Barca to go to extra time for the third game in a row - after two Supercopa de Espana draws - for the first time in their history.

Barca have now missed five of their past eight penalties in all competitions, including their most recent four in a row, and Koeman slammed their success rate as ill-fitting of a club of their stature.

"The most important thing is always to go through, but we can't be happy because we scored goals," he said.

"We missed two penalties and you have to have more responsibility in these types of games.

"Again, 120 minutes, it's an important topic because we've had three games [like that] and that's on us. We created chances and two penalties... that cannot be.

"I can't complain about the effort but it's not only running, but also creating and being effective. It was really tough today. It cannot be and it can't be accepted.

"You have to win matches earlier. We missed two penalties, we had chances. It cannot be that a team like Barca misses so much.

"I don't understand it, either, because we usually have enough players who can score a penalty. It can be scary. I truly don't know why we've missed so many penalties. You can't miss two penalties as Barcelona players. This isn't serious."

Barca are next in action away to Elche in LaLiga on Sunday.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has dismissed comments by Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo confirming they would be interested in signing Lionel Messi.

Leonardo said on Monday PSG have a seat "reserved" at the table of clubs who are "following closely" the developments around Messi's future.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is in the final six months of his Barca contract and could leave on a free transfer after this season.

Koeman, though, thinks it is normal for top players to be coveted by other clubs, saying he could never claim to have no interest in having PSG's star forwards at his disposal.

"If you ask me if I'm interested in Neymar and [Kylian] Mbappe, I'd say yes," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I don't know what will happen in the future; I can't give an opinion on those. We try to have the best squad possible."

Messi is serving a two-match ban for his red card in Barca's Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao, although the club are appealing against the punishment.

"The club told me it's two games, the club doesn't agree [with the sanction] and we'll see," said Koeman. "There are things that can be defended and hopefully they reduce the sanction. If not, we play two games without Leo.

"We've trained, Leo has trained with a lot of eagerness and I haven't seen anything odd. Everyone is sad for the Supercopa result, but we're on the road to better things, above all defensively. Leo is right in the middle of this."

Barca face a Copa del Rey clash at Cornella, the team that shocked LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid in the previous round, on Thursday.

Sergino Dest and Sergi Roberto are sidelined with minor injury problems and Koeman says further first-team regulars will be rested given both Barca games at the Supercopa went to extra time.

"For them, it's the game of the year and for us it's the next one to be ready for. We have to go through because we're Barcelona. It depends a lot on mentality," he said.

"We're angry, it's normal. We have to be like that because we had the Supercopa close and they equalised in the last minute.

"I think we're on a good path - I think so, at least. And we have to keep moving forward. There are players with knocks but it's normal after two matches in extra time and two flights.

"We're going to make changes. We'll see tomorrow [how many]. We want to put out a strong team and, above all, a team that's strong mentally."

Ronald Koeman empathised with Lionel Messi's frustration after the superstar captain was sent off in Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana final loss against Athletic Bilbao.

Messi saw red for the first time in his illustrious club career as embattled LaLiga giants Barca were upstaged 3-2 by Athletic after extra time in Seville on Sunday.

After Athletic star Inaki Williams struck in the third minute of extra time, Messi swung at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by VAR and referee Jesus Gil Manzano brandished a red card.

Messi – who has been tipped to leave Camp Nou amid links with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain – is facing a lengthy suspension, but Barca head coach Koeman defended the 33-year-old.

"I can understand what Messi did," Koeman said afterwards.

"I don't know how many times they fouled him, and it's normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball, but I need to see it again properly."

Messi, who was fouled eight times against Athletic, recovered from a minor injury to return to Barcelona's line-up in his 753rd appearance for the Catalan club.

"Leo, after so many years in the elite of football, knows perfectly if he is in condition or not," Koeman said.

"We spoke before, he said he was in condition to play the game, he has given his maximum and nothing else."

Antoine Griezmann scored twice for Barca, including the 40th-minute opener, but his goals were cancelled out on both occasions at Estadio de La Cartuja.

Athletic's Oscar de Marcos equalised in the 42nd minute before substitute team-mate Villalibre forced extra time at the death, after Griezmann had restored Barca's lead with 13 minutes remaining.

Williams stepped up with a sublime goal as Barca – third in LaLiga and seven points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid – missed out on their first title under Koeman, who replaced Quique Setien ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

"We are sad, disappointed by the result," Koeman added. "We played the final to win and not to lose that, yes. But there is no time to get off. We'll be playing soon, there's a cup and a league, there's no time for regrets.

"We have done positive things, we have improved. We have failed in the goals received. We have to be more forceful in defence. We must defend better in the area and not let the opponents think, they cannot control, turn and shoot easily. We can improve.

"My work ... I give the maximum I can. My work is not very good if we had won, nor very bad for losing. We are on the way, there are positive things, although losing today is very hard."

Lionel Messi was sent off for the first time in his Barcelona career after Inaki Williams scored a sublime goal that gave Athletic Bilbao a shock 3-2 win in the Supercopa de Espana final.

The Catalan giants were on the brink of a record-extending 13th triumph in the competition after Antoine Griezmann scored twice, either side of Oscar De Marcos' equaliser, to put Barcelona 2-1 up late on in normal time.

But Athletic, who knocked out holders Real Madrid in the semi-finals, equalised through substitute Asier Villalibre in the 90th minute and Williams scored early on in the additional period to turn the tie on its head.

Captain Messi was then dramatically sent off in the dying moments of extra time when VAR spotted an off-the-ball incident involving Villalibre, as the Argentinian violently knocked the Athletic player to the ground.

Barca were seeking their silverware under Ronald Koeman but it proved to be a night they would want to quickly forget.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen palmed Ander Capa's long-range drive over the crossbar from the game's first short on target as Athletic threatened after 26 minutes.

Barca slowly found their rhythm and took the lead through their first meaningful attack, Griezmann drilling home after Messi's shot from a Jordi Alba cutback was blocked.

It took Athletic just a minute and 33 seconds to respond through De Marcos, who ghosted in to guide Williams' impressive pass over the top away from Ter Stegen.

And Garcia thought he had given his side the lead just before the hour mark, only for his header to be rightly ruled out for offside following a VAR check.

Athletic lost 3-2 to Barca when the sides met in LaLiga less than two weeks ago but they continued to look the more threatening as Williams blazed wide from inside the box.

Koeman's men appeared to have won the game in normal time when Alba again got in behind and teed up Griezmann to steer home, yet there was to be a late twist.

Captain Iker Muniain sent a free-kick into the box and Villalibre, having kept himself just onside, fired past Ter Stegen to salvage an additional 30 minutes.

Williams' moment of magic arrived three minutes into extra time as he cut inside Oscar Mingueza and curled the ball away from Ter Stegen into the top-right corner.

Barca had time to take the game to penalties but Griezmann volleyed wide at the back post from the best of their remaining chances.


What does it mean? Opportunity missed for Koeman

This competition may be fourth on the list of Barcelona's priorities this season, but Koeman targeted victory in this four-team tournament to strengthen his claims that the club are on the right track under his stewardship.

Having won four in a row in all competitions, including a penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad in the semi-finals, they entered this match with momentum on their side and as heavy favourites.

Athletic may be 13 points below their opponents in LaLiga but they more than held their own in this final, outshooting their opponents 12-10 over the 120 minutes and showing a little extra cutting edge when it mattered most. The Messi red card was an alarming blight on an already desperately disappointing night for Barcelona.

Antoine at it again

Griezmann scored from two of his five shots and has now been directly involved in seven goals in four games, having failed to score or assist in his previous seven outings.

He has also scored five goals in the last four finals he has played for club and country - two for Atletico Madrid, one for France and now two for Barcelona.

Messi's moment of madness

In what was his 753rd appearance for Barcelona in all competitions, Messi was shown his first red card for an off-the-ball swing at Villalibre.

Even before that incident it was a frustrating day for the Argentina international on his return from a short lay-off as he failed to find the target from any of his three attempts.

What's next?

Barcelona switch focus to the Copa del Rey on Thursday with a trip to Cornella, though that last-32 tie could be in doubt due to reports of a coronavirus outbreak in the opposition's camp.

Athletic are up against lower-league opposition on the same day, too, as they take on Ibiza for a place in the last 16.

Lionel Messi was sent off for the first time in his Barcelona career after Inaki Williams scored a sublime goal that gave Athletic Bilbao a shock 3-2 win in the Supercopa de Espana final.

The Catalan giants were on the brink of a record-extending 13th triumph in the competition after Antoine Griezmann scored twice, either side of Oscar De Marcos' equaliser, to put Barcelona 2-1 up late on in normal time.

But Athletic, who knocked out holders Real Madrid in the semi-finals, equalised through substitute Asier Villalibre in the 90th minute and Williams scored early on in the additional period to turn the tie on its head.

Messi was then sent off in the dying moments of extra time when VAR spotted an off-the-ball incident involving Villalibre, as the Argentinian violently knocked the Athletic player to the ground.

Lionel Messi will have the final say over whether he plays a part in Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana final showdown with Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. 

The Argentina international missed Wednesday's penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad in the semi-finals due to what was described as "discomfort". 

He trained individually on Friday and then with the rest of his team-mates on Saturday, though Koeman is unsure if his star man will be available to face Athletic at Estadio La Cartuja. 

"We will see. The player himself always has the last word," Koeman said at his pre-match news conference when asked if Messi will play. 

"We will wait until Sunday morning to see how his body reacts. We are hopeful he will be available tomorrow. 

"If you have the best players in your side, you always have a better chance of winning. We are talking of the number one player in the world. 

"With Leo the team is stronger in terms of creativity and effectiveness, which we otherwise sometimes lack. We have a system in mind but it depends if Leo is involved or not."

Sunday's clash with Athletic presents Koeman with an opportunity to win his first piece of silverware as Barca boss. 

The Catalan giants, who have won the competition a record 13 times, have had four days to recover for the game and Koeman feels his players are in good shape. 

"The team is fine and happy to play the final," he said. "We are very tired, but we have had enough time to fully recover.  

"A difficult game awaits us, against a rival who works hard and is very competitive. We have to try to play our game. 

"It is always important to win things to know that we are on the road. We know that it is not the most important competition, but it is always something for any of us to celebrate. 

"Winning shows us that we are on the right track. It will not be so decisive, but good for the confidence and to show that we have improved things.  

"It is another game to show that we are a strong team and that we fight every game. We will find an opponent who will have all their players ready." 

Athletic are 13 points below Barca in LaLiga but Koeman is wary of opponents who knocked out Real Madrid to reach the final. 

"It is a demonstration that tomorrow everything is possible," he said.  

"If Athletic are as competitive as they were [against Madrid] then it can make for a complicated game. They were effective against Madrid and deserved to go through." 

While Barca are gearing up for a cup final on the field, matters off it also remain a hot topic of discussion. 

It was announced on Friday that the presidential elections, originally scheduled to take place this month, have been pushed back until March. 

That delay means Barca are no longer in the market for new players, ruling out a rumoured move for Manchester City defender Eric Garcia, but Koeman fully understands the situation. 

The Dutchman said: "I have to tell you that I'm fine, happy. I know perfectly well the financial limitations of the club. If that is not possible, we will go ahead with what we have."

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman is unsure if Lionel Messi will be available for Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final.

Messi missed Wednesday's penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad due to some "discomfort".

Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two saves in the shoot-out as Barca overcame Sociedad 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw, sending them into the final against either Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao.

Koeman said he was still unsure if Messi would be available for the decider.

"First, I am very proud of this team, because if you count all the missing players we have in this moment, I think it is important to have people behind who can help. I think today we fulfilled in every way," Koeman told a news conference.

"I know Real [Sociedad] had their chances like us. We just managed to win after the penalties.

"Regarding Leo, we must wait the next days to know whether he is able to play."

Frenkie de Jong had put Barca ahead against Sociedad before Mikel Oyarzabal levelled from the spot in the second half.

Ter Stegen made six saves prior to the shoot-out, equalling his best tally in a single game for Barcelona this season.

"Of course to win on the penalties you must have a great goalkeeper, because Marc has stopped the first three penalties of Real and it is an important step regarding our possibilities to win," Koeman said.

"Also, I think Riqui [Puig] has the personality to take the responsibility to shoot the fifth [penalty]. It was important to score and reach the final."

And so, after two head coach sackings, a torrent of boardroom upheaval and the most discussed transfer request of all time, Barcelona return to the scene of the crime.

The scene in terms of the tournament itself, of course. But even after swapping Saudi Arabia for Seville, the memory of last season's Supercopa de Espana semi-final will be enough to bring many a Cule out in a cold sweat.

Barca led 2-1 going into the final 10 minutes of their encounter with Atletico Madrid at King Abdullah Sports City, only to lose 3-2. Ernesto Valverde would never lead them again.

To say Valverde's sacking and its aftermath were shoddily handled would go some way to redefining the notion of understatement.

Club great Xavi was courted before deciding he would rather lead his boyhood club at a more agreeable time, one without mayhem spewing everywhere behind the scenes at Camp Nou.

Quique Setien took the reins and came to look out of his depth long before the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich. Despite it being a game that caused shockwaves around world football, "8-2" still feels an utterly preposterous thing to type.

Sporting director Eric Abidal called out the squad for a perceived lack of effort during Valverde's final days, a somewhat belated show of solidarity with a coach he unceremoniously bundled towards the exit door.

Lionel Messi took umbrage and an unseemly public spat was still festering by the time LaLiga resumed following the coronavirus shutdown. Barca surrendered the title to Real Madrid before their night of shame in Lisbon.

Setien was gone and newly installed boss Ronald Koeman decided Luis Suarez should follow him through the exit door, something that did nothing to improve Messi's mood as he sought to prise himself away from Barcelona before being forced to stay under contractual duress.

A 2-1 defeat to Cadiz on December 5 left Barca seventh in LaLiga with 14 points from 10 games, with Koeman's dream job turning rapidly into a nightmare.

A listless 3-0 Champions League loss at home to Juventus followed, ceding top spot in their group. But since then, Barcelona are unbeaten in eight LaLiga matches, winning six, and Opta data suggests they might be in better health ahead of Wednesday's semi-final against Real Sociedad than at this time last year.

Creating more under Koeman

In 24 games under Koeman in all competitions, Barca have scored 53 and conceded 22, averaging 2.21 and 0.92 per game respectively in all competitions.

Heading into the semi-final with Atletico, Valverde's team were top of LaLiga with 40 points from 19 matches. That betters the 34 from 18 that Koeman's men have to lie third this time around, but it should be noted that leaders Atleti have 41 points from just 16 outings so far.

The numbers behind Valverde's final half-season at the helm hint at comparative progress under Koeman.

When the former Athletic Bilbao boss led the Blaugrana during the period in question, they averaged 2.32 goals per game with 58 in 25.

However, that hugely out-performed an expected goals (xG) figure of 41.1, meaning they were getting out of jail a fair bit thanks largely to a certain special player. Koeman's Barca are in line with an xG of 53.66 this season, with shots per game up to 16.9 from 12.5 in the same period under Valverde.

Both men left their defences grateful for wasteful finishing, with an xG against of 30.37 for Valverde and 29.83 for Koeman.

 

Messi still the master, Pedri and Griezmann stepping up

Despite a slow start to the season after his attempted exit, Barcelona's main man looks to be back up to speed.

In 21 games this term Messi has 14 goals, closing on the 15 from 19 in his final stint with Valverde as boss, when he hugely out-performed an xG of 9.83.

His importance to Barca remains paramount, leading the way in chance creation (51) as he did in the first half of last season (47).

Suarez was next on that list with 29 last time around. Although no one has filled the breach of 14 goals scored in the period by a man now spearheading Atleti's title charge, youngster Pedri has stepped up to craft 29 opportunities for team-mates.

Frenkie de Jong has created 25 chances from midfield - up from 19. The often maligned Antoine Griezmann has made the same leap, despite being on the pitch for 396 fewer minutes compared to last season. However, until he lifts considerably his goal and assist contributions from seven and four respectively, unflattering comparisons to Suarez and Neymar will remain.

There are numerous shafts of light permeating the gloom that descended upon Barcelona a year ago. Enough to justify the chaos of the interim period? Of course not, but there might be legs in the fragile Koeman-Messi axis yet.

Nevertheless, as Barca face up to Sociedad and Real Madrid prepare to take on Athletic Bilbao, it is hard to escape who this week's real winner will be.

A clinical 2-0 win over Sevilla on Tuesday put Atletico four points clear at LaLiga's summit with two games in hand. Diego Simeone's men will have enjoyed the Barcelona demise they triggered; this time they get to put their feet up for eight days and enjoy their fellow heavyweights punching holes in one another.

 

Lionel Messi has overcome a knock to be available for Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Real Sociedad as Ronald Koeman looks to take a step closer to his first trophy win as Barca coach.

Messi had, according to Koeman, some "discomfort" after Barca's resounding 4-0 win at Granada on Saturday, the Argentinian scoring twice as both he and the team appeared to be finding their feet again.

That was the Blaugrana's third LaLiga win in a row – all of which came away from home – and they are unbeaten in eight across all competitions since the 3-0 home defeat by Juventus on December 8.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Barca's improvement has coincided with Messi finding some joy in his game again – the club captain has scored seven times and set up another two in his past seven games, racking up more goal involvements than any other LaLiga player over the same period.

In his 10 previous league games this term, Messi had only contributed to four goals in total – none of which were assists – suggesting his mind was elsewhere following an attempt to leave the club.

 

But Messi and Barca are looking significantly improved as they head into the Supercopa, with their star man fit for Wednesday's semi-final.

"There are several players with discomfort, one of them is Messi, that is why we withdrew him in Granada," Koeman said on Tuesday. "It seems that everyone is available for tomorrow, also [Ronald] Araujo, although a preparatory session is missing. It is a match against a strong team and we can take the next step."

Koeman recognises Barca have looked more like their old selves in recent weeks, particularly in attack. Since December 9, the four players with the most chances created in LaLiga are Barca players.

"The team is better offensively, we have more players coming from the middle of the field," Koeman said. "We have players in attack who do damage, and defensively the team is working well. We have gained in confidence.

"Lately the team is focused on every game - we have improved in this regard. When we don't have the ball, the team is quite compact. We are improving our game.

"Midfield players give us a lot of threat, but at the beginning of the season we already played with Messi as a false nine. The difference is that the team is more confident and we find free men between the lines."

Wednesday's contest against La Real in Cordoba will be Koeman's first semi-final in charge, with the winners set to play Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao in the final.

While the Dutchman sees it as a great opportunity for silverware, he does not think victory in this competition will instantly mean Barcelona are back to the levels expected of them.

"For us it is important, Barca is made to win. It is not the most important trophy, but we have to play the semi-final and we will give our best," he said.

"We will play with our best team to be in the final. We want to take the first step to reach it.

"I don't think that winning the trophy means being better. Soccer is fickle and things can change quickly.

"It [winning the trophy] would give us confidence, of course, but we have to go step by step, the first thing is to win the semi-final against Real Sociedad."

Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi combined to devastating effect as Barcelona thumped Granada 4-0 to claim their fourth consecutive away LaLiga win.

Ronald Koeman's team continued their recent revival as Messi scored twice for the second straight game, with Barca taking a three-goal lead into half-time.

Griezmann also netted a double and assisted one of Messi's strikes in one of his finest showings in a Barca shirt after what has been a difficult spell since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2019.

The victory moves Barca up to third and within four points of Atletico Madrid and two of rivals Real Madrid, who are at Osasuna later on Saturday. 

Marc-Andre ter Stegen was called into action inside two minutes, making a superb one-handed save to keep out Antonio Puertas' drive from outside the box.

That proved key when Barca moved into a 12th-minute lead, with Griezmann reacting sharply and comfortably beating Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva after Sergio Busquets' pass had deflected into his path off Roberto Soldado.

Ousmane Dembele shot wide but Barca did double their lead after 35 minutes. Griezmann led a counter-attack and fed Messi, who set himself before dispatching a wonderful finish into the top corner from 18 yards. 

The hosts complained Busquets – who was making 600th Barca appearance in all competitions – had handled much earlier in the move, but the goal stood.

Messi then struck again three minutes before the break, arrowing a free-kick from the edge of the area into the bottom corner after Yan Eteki had blocked off Pedri in a dangerous position.

Barca made it four when Griezmann struck again shortly after the hour mark, the France forward controlling Dembele’s chip and sending an excellent right-footed finish beyond Silva.

With the result beyond doubt, Koeman promptly took the opportunity to give Messi, Dembele, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong a rest.

And Granada rounded off a miserable day when Madrid loanee Jesus Vallejo was sent off 12 minutes from time for tugging back Barca substitute Martin Braithwaite as he bore down on goal.
 

Ronald Koeman backed Antoine Griezmann but said goals would be the "best medicine" to boost the Barcelona forward's confidence.

Griezmann's last goal came against Ferencvaros in the Champions League on December 2, and he has just three in 16 LaLiga appearances this season.

A trip to Los Carmenes to face Granada on Saturday could help the France international, who has been involved in four goals (three goals and one assist) in his past five visits to the ground in LaLiga.

Barcelona coach Koeman said while Griezmann was working hard, goals would be best for the 29-year-old.

"Any player needs confidence in himself, his team-mates and the place where he plays. This starts with the player," he told a news conference.

"As a coach, I can communicate with [Griezmann], show him things and footage of potential things to improve, but at the end it's the player who has to show his quality and give effectivity to the team.

"It's not the case that Antoine doesn't work, he works a lot in any position. The other day he recovered a lot of balls, he gave an assist to Leo [Messi].

"But it's time that he scores, because scoring goals is the best medicine to have total confidence in yourself."

Griezmann has converted just 22.2 per cent of his big chances in LaLiga this season, his lowest in any campaign since at least 2012-13.

 

Barcelona are fourth in the table, seven points behind Atletico Madrid but having played two more games.

Ronald Koeman is keen to bolster his options at Barcelona with some January additions, but he acknowledges the club's financial situation may make it too difficult.

Philippe Coutinho last week joined Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique on Barca's long-term injury list, while Carles Alena was allowed to leave for Getafe on loan until the end of the season.

Koeman has already expressed his desire to add a striker to his ranks, with the club having let Luis Suarez leave in the close season without signing a replacement, and they continue to be linked with Memphis Depay.

However, Barca's finances have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, so much so that they have delayed the biannual wage payment due to players in January.

Koeman consequently accepts it may not be possible for Barca to fulfil his wish to bring in new faces.

"It is important for our short-term future. We want to improve the squad. I still think some positions need more competition and effectiveness," said Koeman on Friday.

"But I understand the situation of the club. If it is not possible, it is not possible, and we will wait for the next window."

Koeman suggested Alena may not be the only young player to leave Camp Nou this month, though he revealed 17-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba could be in line for a first-team debut against Granada on Saturday.

"We have told the players that I think it is better for them to find a way out so they have minutes, predominantly [these suggestions have come from] Ramon Planes [club technical secretary] because I am more focused on the games," said the Dutchman.

"Once again it is the player's decision. I think that for some, without mentioning names, because of their youth it is best to seek the best as a player. A young man cannot go a year without playing. It's not good for improving as a young player.

"We know that with Alena's loan we are missing a player, and Ilaix was with us in pre-season. Sometimes he trains with the first team. It is a possibility he will be called up for tomorrow's game."

Barca will be without the suspended Clement Lenglet at Nuevo Los Carmenes and Koeman indicated Samuel Umtiti could make his first start of the season in his fellow Frenchman's stead.

"He has been out for a long time and has recovered from his injury. It's a long path for him to be as he was before," said Koeman.

"He has had some minutes and we have to make a decision. Without Lenglet, he and [Oscar] Mingueza can deliver. We will make a decision after training today."

Following their meeting with Granada, Barca will compete in the Supercopa de Espana and the Copa del Rey.

In the latter competition they were drawn against fellow Catalan side Cornella, who remarkably knocked out LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

"I am not surprised. There are surprises like this in all countries," Koeman said of Atleti's defeat.

"It can be a complicated game. They deserved to win against Atletico, who played with a strong team. If it's not your day, a lower team with motivation and dedication can make things complicated for you.

"It's a nice tie because we don't have to travel, but we have to adapt to the artificial pitch. There are other games that we have to have maximum attention on first, though."

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