Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman believes Lionel Messi is slowly getting back to his best after a brace against Athletic Bilbao.

Messi scored twice, to go with Pedri's goal, at San Mames on Wednesday as Barca recorded a 3-2 victory.

The star has been involved in 10 goals in his past 10 games in all competitions, netting eight and assisting two.

And Koeman feels Messi, who has netted 12 times in 20 appearances this season, is improving.

"Since the first day that I arrived at the club I think Lionel Messi has given everything," he told a news conference.

"I haven’t been surprised by his quality because he's obviously been showing how good he is for years. It's possibly true that he's been less effective than normal which is why there could have been doubts but he's doing a lot better now, he feels comfortable at the moment and he feels up for the challenge.

"That's how I feel. But I think Messi is the one who can answer that best."

Pedri cancelled out Inaki Williams' opener before Messi's double, and Barca moved into third in LaLiga despite Iker Muniain's late goal.

Koeman also praised Ousmane Dembele, who along with Pedri and Antoine Griezmann had a game-high three key passes.

"I think everything starts with the player himself. If the player feels comfortable and feels physically fit he can play well," he said.

"I don't think there's ever been any question about his quality, at least in my opinion, but there have been doubts about his ability to stay fit. At the moment he seems fully fit and I have to think about the programme of games ahead and when we can give him a rest because he hasn't played regularly for quite some time.

"He has to learn how to manage his game time as well. But in terms of the football he can play we know what he can give to the team. He's very good going forward, he attacks with the ball and those are good qualities for us."

Barca, who are seven points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid and have played two more games, visit Granada on Saturday.

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona demonstrated they are on the right track by overcoming an early setback to win 3-2 at Athletic Bilbao.

Inaki Williams raced clear to put the hosts, who had Marcelino in charge for the first time, in front inside three minutes of Wednesday's LaLiga clash.

However, Barca responded impressively, goals from Pedri and Lionel Messi putting them in front by the break before the latter increased their lead just after the hour mark.

Koeman had to endure a nervy finish after Iker Muniain's 90th-minute finish, but promised his squad will "fight until the last match" in LaLiga after moving up to third in the table.

"The final result is a bit short because we have been superior in many phases," Koeman said, having now recorded three away wins on the spin in LaLiga for the first time in his reign.

"They made it 1-0 and we did not have the defensive coordination, but then we controlled [the game].

"I am happy with the result and with how we have achieved it. We have deserved it. Winning because of our game and our opportunities.

"The teamwork has been phenomenal. We will fight until the last match. There is distance [to go], but we are on the right track." 

Messi will understandably dominate the agenda having scored twice, but Koeman was also quick to praise the performance of Pedri, who completed over 90 per cent of his attempted passes.

The teenage midfielder scored the equaliser, heading in Frenkie de Jong's cutback cross with goalkeeper Unai Simon out of position, while it was his backheeled pass that set up Messi to make it 2-1.

"Pedri is showing despite his youth that he is very mature," the Dutchman said in his post-match interview.

"Messi has always shown his desire but today also with goals. It is very important."

Messi's long-term future at Camp Nou may be unclear but his recent form has shown no lack of commitment to the cause; he has been involved in 10 goals in his last 10 games in all competitions.

Barca are next in action on Saturday, when they visit Granada.

Lionel Messi is the only player who can ensure Barcelona's value, according to presidential candidate Lluis Fernandez.

Messi wanted to leave Barca last year, due to frustration with the club's board and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner ultimately elected to stay and see out his contract, which runs out at the end of the season, before Bartomeu and the entire Barca board resigned in October.

There has been talk that Messi may choose to remain at the club he has been at since 2001, having helped them to 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues.

However, Messi, who marked his 500th LaLiga appearance by teeing up Frenkie de Jong's winner against Huesca last time out, will not make a decision until towards the end of the season – something Barca coach Ronald Koeman insists is not a problem.

With the presidential elections coming up on January 24, each candidate is outlining their vision for the future of the club, and Fernandez has vowed to do all he can to keep Messi at Camp Nou, outlining the financial benefits of retaining the 33-year-old.

"We can't forget that Barcelona have a greater income because of Messi," he told Radio Marca. "Barcelona would have less value without Messi.

"He is the only player in the squad who, by his mere presence, ensures Barcelona have more value and more income.

"We need income, but we also need to manage the club's structure. There's a need to negotiate the debt.

"But, there's no danger of Barcelona being forced to become a limited company. The members can rest assured about that."

Fernandez also wants the club to return to its roots and promote more players from its famed La Masia academy.

Ansu Fati is the most recent prodigy off Barca's production line and, should he win the election, Fernandez will speak to Koeman about the importance of giving youth a chance.

"We agree that Ronald Koeman should be given a chance," Fernandez added. "We need to speak with him because there's a need to give opportunities to the players from the academy.

"No starter has come out of La Masia since 2011, when Sergi Roberto did so. So, there's a need to speak to Koeman about this and about giving opportunities.

"From next year, we need to promote young players, as we won't be able to sign as much and we'll need to reduce the wage bill."

Barcelona have given midfielder Carles Alena permission to leave the club this month, with the player expected to move on loan.

The 23-year-old La Masia product has struggled to establish himself under Ronald Koeman this season, with only one of his five appearances across LaLiga and the Champions League coming in the starting XI.

Alena spent the second half of last season on loan at Real Betis and Getafe have been linked with his services on a deal that will likely run until the end of the season.

"Alena has permission from the club to seek his exit," Koeman told a news conference ahead of Wednesday's trip to Athletic Bilbao.

"When everything is done, I will be able to give an opinion, but there are players who can decide to stay or not. He has decided to seek his exit."

Barca's preparations for their visit to San Mames were hit by two positive coronavirus cases among the club staff on Monday.

That forced pre-match training and media duties to be postponed until later on Tuesday, when Koeman's squad were confirmed to have a clean bill of health in terms of COVID-19.

"There are things in life that cannot be controlled," the former Netherlands boss said.

"We have followed the protocol by suspending the training this morning and repeating the PCR tests.

"We could only hope that there were no more positives. Thank goodness that everyone has come out negative and we were able to prepare for tomorrow's game. "

Barcelona head into the match in fifth, 10 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid having played a game more.

Despite a hectic fixture schedule this month, Koeman has not ruled out bringing in reinforcements to bolster an ailing title challenge.

"Any team looks at how the squad can be improved in January," he added.

"I make my plans on seeing the casualties we may have and what players [we need] to bring.

"But if it is not possible, I will have the same players."

Ronald Koeman said Barcelona were missing a number nine as they scored just once from 20 shots on goal in a 1-0 victory over Huesca, and called for the club to sign a new striker.

Lionel Messi returned to the Barcelona side after recovering from an ankle injury and Koeman opted to play him in attack alongside Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembele.

The trio attempted 15 shots between them but it was Frenkie de Jong who scored the decisive goal, volleying Messi's chipped pass into the net after 27 minutes.

Koeman, who sent on Antoine Griezmann for Braithwaite nine minutes from time, admitted that he lacks a natural striker to lead the line in between the creative talents of Messi and Dembele.

"I trust each player in our squad," Koeman told reporters. "But if we choose to have three midfielders there is room for three forwards.

"With Leo we bet on someone with great depth like Dembele, and we have to choose between Martin or Antoine at the top and Martin has done it.

"It's a nine that we're missing in these games but it doesn't mean anything in regards to Antoine's substitution. We have a lot of games and we need all the players.

"We have said several times, at the beginning of the season, that we need someone at the top to have more competition and more goals, more effectiveness, but this depends on many things."

Koeman indicated that he believes improving his striking options will help reduce the pressure on Barcelona's defence, which absorbed waves of Huesca attacks as the hosts sought an equaliser late on at El Alcoraz.

Barcelona were on target with just seven of their 20 shots at goal and Koeman said they must close games out earlier to avoid nervous late spells.

"The second half was not so brilliant," admitted Koeman.

"In the end we suffer a little because they have tried to create and there have been crosses where we have defended well. If you don't close out the game earlier, you always suffer."

Looking ahead to LaLiga clashes with Athletic Bilbao and Granada, and a Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Real Sociedad, Koeman added: "This month is very important for our aspirations because we have many away games and if we win them I think we can fight.

"We have come out strong, very focused, and that is the main base we need. If we have those two things we will improve with the ball and if we can also improve in front of goal we can have a very important and good year."

Barcelona moved into LaLiga's top five after Frenkie de Jong's goal clinched a 1-0 victory over bottom club Huesca in Lionel Messi's 500th league appearance for the club.

Blaugrana boss Ronald Koeman, who warned before the game that defeat would all but end his side's title challenge, saw a much-improved Barcelona performance as he earned back-to-back LaLiga away wins for the first time in his tenure.

Messi came back into the side after missing Barca's disappointing 1-1 draw with Eibar due to an ankle injury and was at his talismanic best, deftly assisting De Jong's volleyed goal after just before the half-hour mark.

Huesca did open the visitors up on occasion and it remains to be seen whether Koeman can restore some consistency and style to this team, but they did enough here to climb above Sevilla in the table.

Barcelona's early pressure paid off after 27 minutes when Messi played an exquisite chipped pass into the box, where De Jong evaded two defenders and guided the ball into the corner of the net from six yards on the volley.

Messi would have capped a fine first-half performance with a superb goal five minutes from the interval had Alvaro Fernandez not pulled off a spectacular save, palming his dipping 20-yard free-kick over the crossbar.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner flashed a fierce effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box early in the second period, before Marc-Andre ter Stegen got down well to prevent Rafa Mir's close-range shot from becoming the equaliser.

Ousmane Dembele should have put the game beyond doubt when he went one-on-one with Fernandez 13 minutes from time, but the Huesca goalkeeper saved at his feet and then denied Messi again before full-time.

Ronald Koeman is happy for Lionel Messi to decide on his Barcelona future at the end of the season.

Messi asked to leave Barca in 2020 but ultimately stayed put, although he has made little effort to hide his displeasure with former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

The 33-year-old's contract runs out at the end of the season, and he is set to become the most highly sought-after free agent in history.

While Messi, who did not feature in a 1-1 draw with Eibar on Tuesday, is reportedly yet to fully decide on whether he will leave the club, head coach Koeman is not looking to hurry his captain.

"Leo is fine. He was training on [December] 30 and 31, while the rest of the squad was resting," Koeman said ahead of Barca's clash with Huesca.

"No doubt for him, he's got great fitness and he's prepared, happy and really excited. That's important for us.

"He has said that he no longer wants to make the decision [now] and it must be respected. You are free to report however you want. 

"He always does the best for the team, I see no problem that he doesn't decide now."

Barca's presidential elections are set to take place later this month, with several candidates offering up their plans for how to turn things around for the Catalan giants.

The camp of Emili Rousaud, one candidate, spoke of a potential move for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, although speculation was swiftly stymied by agent Mino Raiola.

Koeman would like to be able to add to his squad in January but accepts that financial restraints may limit his options, while he does not expect any business to happen prior to the presidential elections on January 24.

"Yes. Without saying names, yes," Koeman replied when asked if he wanted new signings.

"There are players who find it difficult to play games and we want to strengthen the squad. Some don't have much of a future.

"I have already said that it depends on the new president and there will not be much time. We can be prepared. I cannot change the date of the elections."

Ronald Koeman expects to be without Philippe Coutinho for at least three months following surgery to repair a knee injury.

Coutinho suffered damage to the external meniscus of his left knee after coming on as a second-half substitute in Barcelona's 1-1 draw with Eibar on Tuesday at Camp Nou. 

The Brazil international was told he required an operation following further assessment and, while the club has yet to offer a timetable for his return, Koeman has confirmed it will be a lengthy absence. 

Speaking ahead of Saturday's LaLiga fixture away to Huesca, the Barca boss admitted it is a blow to lose another forward option, considering he is also without the services of Ansu Fati. 

"It's unlucky because we have so many important players out injured and Philippe will be about three months out," Koeman told the media.  

"He always has been an important player and he will be important, but now he has to recover, and I don't know when he will be 100 per cent fit.  

"An important absence. Up front, we are having some problems, of course, and I will have to see how we can solve Philippe's absence." 

Coutinho's injury will increase speculation over Barca making a move for long-time target Memphis Depay in the January transfer window. 

The Netherlands international is in the final year of his contract at Lyon and media reports in both France and Spain have suggested he could be available at a greatly reduced price, considering he can leave for free at the end of the 2020-21 season.

In the short term, Koeman will at least have Lionel Messi back for the game with Huesca, as Barcelona aim to avoid losing three successive games against newly promoted sides in the top flight for the first time in their history.

The Blaugrana were beaten by Osasuna in July towards the end of the previous season, then humbled by top-flight new boys Cadiz last month.

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