Lionel Messi admitted Gerard Pique’s goal was not a training ground masterpiece as Barcelona beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 on Wednesday to seal top spot in their Champions League group for a 12th consecutive season.
Messi opened the scoring at the Philips Stadion following a move he had started by the halfway line in the 61st minute, netting his sixth goal in the competition this season in just three appearances.
The Argentine forward then turned provider, setting up Pique 10 minutes later as the defender deflected home a free kick from inside the area.
Pique, half-joking, said after the game that the set play had been “rehearsed” and was the result of a lot of hard work on the training ground, but Messi was unable to keep the story up.
“It wasn’t rehearsed, that’s a lie,” Messi told Movistar. “It was a poorly taken free kick, but luckily Pique was there. He saw [the ball] and he took advantage of the situation.”
Despite winning the game, Barca spent large parts of the match on the back foot. PSV created over 20 chances, hitting the woodwork three times and drawing several good saves from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
However, the Dutch side, who were eliminated from Europe as a consequence of this result, were unable to take advantage of their opportunities. Luuk de Jong’s 83rd-minute header came too late.
“It was an open game,” Messi added. “In the first half, we lost a lot of easy balls. We gifted them too many counter-attacks and free kicks and they had a lot of chances. We knew we couldn’t do that because they’re a strong side.
“Then, when we were two up, they started getting a lot of crosses into the area. They had a lot of tall players in the box which is difficult to defend against.”
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde was also concerned by his side’s sloppiness in possession.
“PSV created danger because of us giving the ball away,” he lamented in his postgame news conference. “They created lots of chances. De Jong is difficult to defend against and we suffered.
“We didn’t look secure at the back, they hit the woodwork, had corners. We had problems in those first 20 minutes. We gave up more than was necessary.”
Valverde, though, was extremely satisfied with another three points as Barca wrapped up top spot in Group B with a game to spare — they host Tottenham in their final game at Camp Nou on Dec. 11.
“We wanted to win the group and we’ve managed to do that, despite the difficulty of the sides we’ve faced,” the coach said.
“You have to keep in mind that we’ve struggled away from home in the last two years [in Europe]. And this year we’ve won two and drawn one which we should have won. It may seem easy, but these games have their problems, like this one.”