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La Liga: Lionel Messi in action as Barcelona keep slightest of hopes alive to win title

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi has halted negotiations to extend his current contract, which expires in 2021, perhaps to express frustration with the running of the club.

SNS | New Delhi |

Barcelona veteran Lionel Messi took his assists tally in this season’s La Liga to a record 20 after he fed Arturo Vidal during their stodgy 1-0 win over Real Valladolid on Saturday. The result at the Jose Zorrilla Stadium meant that the Catalan giants kept the slightest of hopes to win the title alive.

Even though it looks certain that Real Madrid will win the La Liga this year, given they need regulation victories against Granada and Villarreal in their next ties, Barcelona kept their chances afloat as they took their points tally to 79 matches from 36 games.

Los Blancos stand at 80 points from 35 matches and require five points from the next three matches to win the league.

Meanwhile, Barcelona’s turbulent campaign since the COVID-19 hiatus continued as they looked out of shape and lacked intention. Apart from Messi, no player looked threatening enough to tame the disciplined Valladolid backline.

Messi’s delightful pass to Vidal in the 15th minute, which was a result of scoop between two Valladolid defenders, resulted not only in Barcelona’s victory, but also triggered various milestones for the Argentine great.

His 20th assist of the season made him the first La Liga player to achieve the feat in 11 years after his former club-mate Xavi Hernandez did that in 2009.

With the provider against Valladolid, Messi also set a new personal record of most assists in a single season and became only the second player in the 21st century from any top-five major European league to hit 20 goals and assists in the same season. Thierry Henry had done that in 2002-03.

Fielding a 3-5-2 formation, Barcelona coach Quique Setien had benched Luis Suarez. Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba played as wing-backs, while Sergio Roberto dropped into the back three.

But the change in formation paid little dividends as Barcelona struggled to create many threats in the Valladolid box. Meanwhile, Griezman had squandered a rare and early chance before Vidal showed him how to get it done. It was one of the quieter displays by the French man before he was replaced by Suarez.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two saves in the second half as Valladolid fancied their chances.