Messi tricks his way to yet another dominant effort
MADRID — Barcelona tied the record for longest unbeaten run in La Liga history on Saturday as a Lionel Messi hat-trick inspired the runaway leaders to a 3-1 win over Leganes to make it 38 league games unbeaten.
The Catalan giant will look to break the record that Real Sociedad set in 1979-80 when it hosts Valencia this weekend, with Ernesto Valverde’s side now just seven matches from becoming the first La Liga side to go through a campaign without tasting defeat.
Messi was the star of the show at Camp Nou with a magnificent treble, as Barca stretched its lead at the top to 12 points ahead of secondplace Atletico Madrid’s derby against Real Madrid on Sunday.
“This unbeaten record has not only been achieved this season, but also last year under (former coach) Luis Enrique,” said Barca coach Valverde.
“It’s a shared record, because it crossed over between seasons. It has been quite difficult, because of the fact it’s an old record.”
Valverde named a strong side despite having a Champions League quarterfinal second leg on Tuesday at Roma, with Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho all starting.
Suarez passed up two good early chances to put Barca ahead, prodding wide and then seeing visiting goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar deny him with an excellent save.
But the host moved in front in the 27th minute through a trademark Messi freekick.
The Argentine superstar stepped up and curled the ball over the ball and into the bottom corner from 25 yards to score his 27th league goal of the season.
It didn’t take the 30-yearold long to double his tally for the day, latching onto Coutinho’s through ball and firing low into the corner.
Barcelona eased off in the second half, perhaps thinking of the upcoming midweek clash at the Stadio Olimpico, and Leganes hit back midway through the second half.
Former Liverpool winger Nabil El Zhar cut inside and fired into the bottom corner from the edge of the box despite losing his footing as he shot.
But the home side finished off the match with a late tally by Messi, completing his third hat-trick of the season in style.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner chested down Ousmane Dembele’s pass and chipped the ball over Cuellar with consummate ease.
“To score goals is always good. We think that Messi has to stay active so that he avoids any muscular problems,” said Valverde.
“He’s doing well and we saw that tonight. Looking forward to the next matches, the way he played is good news for us.”
Barca will now turn its attentions to avoiding a disaster in Italy as it defends a 4-1 first-leg lead, still bidding to complete the treble with a Copa del Rey final against Sevilla in two weeks.
Lionel Messi scores Barcelona's third goal to complete his hattrick in a 3-1 win over Leganes on Saturday.