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Valverde heaps praise on ‘surprising’ Messi

Ernesto Valverde has said he is always surprised by Lionel Messi after he produced a superb performance against Girona on Saturday evening.

The starting whistle was still ringing in fans’ ears when Portu shocked the home crowd with a goal for Girona. Sergio Busquets made an unnecessary back-heel which resulted in Girona’s Anthony Lozano making a run and trying to get on the end of the ball. Samuel Umtiti should have been able to clear, but Portu swept in and shot around the oncoming Marc-Andre ter Stegen to score a magnificent shot that tipped off both posts before crossing the line.

Fortunately for Barcelona, Luis Suarez equalized within minutes and the game was level again. Within five minutes the match was 1-1 and the atmosphere in Camp Nou was electric.

Lionel Messi then gave Barcelona the lead, after a long ball from Luis Suarez gave Messi possession in the box. The Argentine held on to the ball for what looked to be a fraction too long, and Girona managed to get bodies back in the box. But, Messi worked his magic dancing around several defenders to get into a better position and then hammered home the goal.

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Later on, Messi got his double to make the match 3-1 from a free-kick just outside the penalty box. His choice to fire the shot directly under the jumping Girona wall paid off, as the ball went under everyone’s legs and into the left-hand bottom corner of Bounou’s goal.

Then, it was Suarez’s turn to score again and a striding run from Messi into the Girona half set-up the play. Messi passed to Philippe Coutinho on the left who dished to Luis Suarez to put it away for 4-1.

Barcelona kept pressing and it seemed that all the Barça players wanted to get a piece of the action. Coutinho finally got on the scoresheet with a lovely curling shot that went in off the right post. Finally, Suarez got the hat-trick to cap off the evening of goals after tapping in a cross from Ousmane Dembele.

“It’s been an important week,” Valverde told Movistar Partidazo after the game.

“Girona came in from a great run of form. We started badly, but luckily we replied quickly. They pressed up high, and as soon as we surpassed that early pressure, we had chances to score.

“Messi? It’s hard to get used to the things he does. Just when you think you’ve seen everything from Messi, he surprises you, like his free kick, which looked easy but was very difficult to execute.

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“He’s a player who has and feels responsibility towards the team, and he assumed it when we were faced with their early pressure.

“Coutinho and Dembele? Both players can help us. Coutinho’s a player who works well inside and can shoot from outside.

“Dembele is a wider and younger player. He’s had problems with injuries, meaning his period of adaptation was skipped.

“Now we’re in the most complicated part of the season.”

Barcelona has now set a club record of 32 La Liga games unbeaten. Meanwhile, Messi has now broken the record for the number of La Liga assists.

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