BARCELONA — Lionel Messi paid a personal tribute to the late Diego Maradona after scoring on Sunday as Barcelona returned to winning ways in La Liga with a resounding 4-0 home win over Osasuna.
Messi adorned a brilliant team display with a thumping strike into the top corner in the second half, after Martin Braithwaite had broken the deadlock and Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho had scored either side of halftime.
The Argentine then lifted his shirt to reveal a red and black replica kit of his hometown club Newell›s Old Boys bearing the number 10, which Maradona wore during his brief spell at the Rosario side in 1993.
The Catalans had paid homage before kickoff to Maradona, who played for the club in an eventful yet disappointing spell from 1982 to 1984, hanging a framed signed shirt of his above the presidential box while the players held minutes of silence in front of an old Barca shirt bearing the number 10.
Barca defender Clement Lenglet limped off with an ankle problem, leaving his side with no fit first-team center backs due to injuries to Samuel Umtiti, Ronald Araujo and Gerard Pique.
The win followed Barca›s 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid last week and lifted them to seventh in the standings on 14 points after nine matches, nine behind leader Real Sociedad and second-placed Atletico.
“Maradona deserved an emotional tribute like that, we have lost a global idol,” said Coutinho.
“Everyone in football admired him and we’ll all miss him.”
Griezmann added: “We didn’t know what Messi had prepared in tribute to Maradona, it was a beautiful surprise.”
“It was very important to win today because the teams at the top keep winning and we can’t afford to slip up any more. We know it will be difficult, but we showed today we want to win the league and have a team capable of doing that.”
Messi had enjoyed a rare rest in midweek as he and Frenkie de Jong were left at home for Barca’s 4-0 win away to Dynamo Kyiv, which sealed its place in the Champions League knockout stages.
Coach Ronald Koeman gave Martin Braithwaite another start after the Dane impressed against Dynamo, and Barca benefited from having more of a presence in the area, which they have lacked since parting with Luis Suarez.
Barca could have taken an early lead through a sparkling move between Messi, Griezmann, and Coutinho, but Osasuna defender Unai Garcia cleared Coutinho’s shot off the line.
Braithwaite eventually put Barca ahead by bundling the ball over the line in a goalmouth scramble while Griezmann doubled their lead with a ferocious volley from outside the area.
Griezmann, who also scored against Dynamo, then set up the third goal by passing to Coutinho, who could hardly miss from close range.
Ousmane Dembele thought he had got a fourth, but a VAR review ruled the move offside. Instead, and fittingly perhaps, it was Messi who had the final say. — Reuters