Football

Lionel Messi fails to hit 700 goals but makes 250th assist as Rakitic helps Barcelona regain top spot


IVAN RAKITIC’S crucial winner ensured Barcelona kept up the pressure on Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.

The Croatian latched onto Lionel Messi’s pass with just 20 minutes left on the clock to seal all three points for the Catalan giants.

 Ivan Rakitic fired the crucial winner for Barcelona

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Ivan Rakitic fired the crucial winner for BarcelonaCredit: AFP or licensors
 Rakitic celebrates scoring the vital winning goal

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Rakitic celebrates scoring the vital winning goalCredit: EPA

It was Messi’s 250th assist for his boyhood club but he’ll have to wait a while longer to score his 700th career strike.

Barca headed into the contest against Athletic Bilbao in second spot behind rivals Real Madrid on goal difference.

Manager Quique Setién took no risks with his team selection and started all the big-hitters to ensure his side would move back to the summit of the table.

But the game was a cagey affair throughout with both teams spurning chances in the first half to open the scoring.

Following reports that Arthur is on the brink of joining Juventus, he was hooked off on 56 minutes in replace of Riqui Puig who changed the dynamic of the game.

Barca instantly looked more threatening before Rakitic and wonderkid Ansu Fati were introduced just after the hour mark.

And the gamble paid off when Rakitic grabbed the all-important winner.

Messi danced his way into the box and appeared to lose possession when he was crowded out.

 Lionel Messi picked up his 250th Barcelona assist

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Lionel Messi picked up his 250th Barcelona assistCredit: Reuters

But a kind ricochet allowed the ball back into his path and he fed Rakitic who made no mistake firing past the keeper.

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The sigh of relief from the players was plain to see as they celebrated an all-important goal.

Barca were far from convincing know the result was the most important with just seven matches left of the season.

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