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Messi merely 6/10 but puts Barcelona back on top of La Liga with penalty vs. Real Sociedad

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Nicol: Barcelona's problems can't be fixed right now (1:12)

Steve Nicol says Barcelona are ordinary outside of Lionel Messi and lack connections this season. (1:12)

Barcelona needed a helping hand from VAR on Saturday as a Lionel Messi penalty helped them beat Real Sociedad 1-0 at Camp Nou and move back to the top of the table. Robin Le Normand's second-half handball went unchecked at first but was later revised by VAR and a spot kick awarded to Barca. Messi converted in the 81st minute to seal a vital three points for the home side.

Positives

The win takes Barca back above Real Madrid at La Liga's summit following last week's Clasico loss. They temporarily have a two-point lead over their title rivals, who play Real Betis in Seville on Sunday. With 11 games to go now, it looks like the battle will go to the wire.

Barca will also be encouraged by the first-half display from their new signing Martin Braithwaite. Making his full debut following his €18 million move from Leganes in February, his runs in behind were Quique Setien's side's best outlet in the opening 45 minutes.

Negatives

Barca have only dropped points once at home this season -- against Real Madrid -- but they came dangerously close here with La Real less than 10 minutes away from ending a 23-game losing streak at Camp Nou in the league. The performance from the Catalans was not good enough, and while they continue to get by at home, they're likely to continue struggling on the road.

There were also more whistles for president Josep Maria Bartomeu before the game and calls for him to resign. The atmosphere around the club is not good at the moment and will get worse if Barca fall away from Madrid.

Manager rating out of 10

5 -- Setien had options on the bench but his one change -- Arturo Vidal for Ivan Rakitic in the final 20 minutes -- came late and didn't have a huge effect on the game. He got lucky with a favourable VAR decision. His resources are stretched but he has to be more proactive at Camp Nou.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Copa del Rey finalists La Real were a threat on the counter but never managed to properly test the German, who would have expected more work. A couple of hairy moments on the ball but his varied distribution remains an asset.

DF Nelson Semedo, 6 -- Wasn't at his explosive best, although he was able to deal with the threat of youngster Ander Barrenetxea fairly comfortably.

DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Impressed in the air and tried to lead Barca forward with the ball at his feet. Often comes into his own at this time of the season and the signs are there that he's primed to go up another level if needs to in the run-in.

DF Clement Lenglet, 5 -- Booked and will be suspended for next week's trip to Mallorca. Struggled to deal with Alexander Isak at times but did make one important block late on.

DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Had a goal ruled out in stoppage time after Ansu Fati was ruled to have been offside in the build-up. Set up one good chance for Messi and did OK in general.

MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Often the highest Barca player up the pitch, leading the pressing. Always an outlet when Barca had the ball.

MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- A wasteful first half but improved after the break. Had one shot tipped wide and was inches away from connecting with an Alba cross after a good move that he had played a big part in.

MF Frenkie de Jong, 6 -- Glimpses of what he's capable of but the feeling can't be escaped that he'd be better in a deeper role. Did nothing wrong and, on another day, would have had an assist for setting up Messi, but the Argentine's shot flicked past the wrong side of the post.

FW Antoine Griezmann, 5 -- You would have been forgiven for not having realised he was playing when he was taken off in the final five minutes. A quiet afternoon for the Frenchman who added nothing in the final third.

FW Lionel Messi, 6 -- Involved in nearly all Barca's big moments (be that missing chances or setting them up) before eventually scoring the winner from the penalty spot with his 19th goal in La Liga this season. However, with a number of unusually poor first touches and shots failing to hit the target, you got the feeling he's still nowhere near his best.

MF Martin Braithwaite, 6 -- Was really bright in the first 45 minutes when he had three chances and a goal ruled out for offside. His first chance was pushed behind for a corner, his second was straight at the goalkeeper and his third a header over. Less involved in the second period.

Substitutes

MF Arturo Vidal, N/R -- The only change Setien made when the game was goalless. He made his mark with a late tackle and then delivered the cross that led to the penalty.

FW Ansu Fati, N/R -- Replaced Griezmann shortly after Messi's goal.

DF Junior Firpo, N/R -- Came on for Braithwaite late on to help Barca protect their lead in stoppage time.