Lionel Messi scored two goals as FC Barcelona defeated Real Sociedad 3-2 in a close fight while Real Madrid were rescued by a late goal from Isco to win 3-2 against Sporting Gijon in the La Liga.
He scored twice on Saturday to help Barcelona rebound from back-to-back losses and go into the next round at Real Madrid within striking distance of the Spanish league leader.
Messi added an assist as Barcelona saw off a dangerous Real Sociedad side 3-2 at Camp Nou, with the defending champions struggling to end a run of defeats at Malaga in the league and Juventus in the Champions League.
Madrid needed two goals from Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, including his 90th-minute winner, to stay three points ahead of Barcelona at the top of the table after prevailing 3-2 at Sporting Gijon. Madrid also has a match in hand.
Messi then scrambled in a rebound of Luis Suarez’s shot in the 37th, taking his league-leading tally to 29 goals.
Sociedad, however, got a goal back when Inigo Martinez’s shot took deflections off Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and defender Samuel Umtiti before going in.
Messi passed for Paco Alcacer, starting for the suspended Neymar, to make it 3-1, only for Xabi Prieto to steer home Willian Jose’s pass in first-half injury time.
Sociedad was the more aggressive side in the second half, which doesn’t look good for Barcelona’s chances of another stunning comeback in the Champions League against Juventus. In the Round of 16, Barcelona routed Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 to overhaul a 4-0 loss.
“It’s obvious that we are in a phase in which rivals can hurt us easily,” Luis Enrique said. “We have to improve that. My players need to keep up their confidence.”
Madrid was on the verge of a second consecutive league draw when Isco drilled a right-footed shot from just outside the area between goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar and his post.
Isco’s outstanding performance saved coach Zinedine Zidane from paying a heavy price for resting almost all his first-choice players, including Cristiano Ronaldo, for Madrid’s big week ahead.
“Isco deserved this,” said Marcelo, who went on as a second-half substitute for Madrid. “It was a relief to score at the end and take the three points. There is little time to rest and those who played today were phenomenal. They don’t have many minutes, but that’s what makes a team great. We need everyone and everyone responds.”
Isco’s first goal was a superb solo effort in the 17th to cancel out Duje Cop’s opener. The Spain midfielder avoided three defenders before lashing a left-footed strike just inside the top corner of the goal frame.