Messi tricks his way to yet an­other dom­i­nant ef­fort

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Sports -

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.

AL­BERT GEA / REUTERS

Lionel Messi scores Barcelona's third goal to com­plete his hat­trick in a 3-1 win over Le­ganes on Satur­day.

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