Leo Messi’s hat-trick tonight against Malaga took the Argentinian to the astonishing total of 68 goals this season, beating Gerd Müller’s 39 year old record of 67 as the most goals ever scored in a season in European football. Messi’s total in the league is now 46 which is also an all-time record in the Liga Española though he could still be challenged for the pichichi trophy by Cristiano Ronaldo who now has 44 after scoring as Real Madrid clinched the league title tonight with victory over Athletic Club.
Pep Guardiola made four changes to the team that won 0-7 at Rayo Vallecano, Pinto continued in goal, Alves returned at right back in place of Montoya, Fabregas and Iniesta replaced Busquets and Thiago in midfield and Isaac Cuenca was back in place of the injured Alexis.
Barça started promisingly with an Alves shot from an angle which Kameni saved comfortably though after ten minutes Fabregas fouled Cazorla 25 yards out and Duda curled a left foot free kick away from Pinto and the ball came out off the outside of the post. Pedro and Messi were looking lively and in the 13th minute they combined to set up Fabregas whose shot was deflected wide. Messi and Iniesta took a short corner with Messi sending back a reverse pass which allowed Iniesta to cross low to the near post where Puyol slid in to stab the ball home from close range.
Adriano forced another save from Kameni but the intensity of Barça’s game dropped. In the 26th minute Portillo held the ball up on the Malaga right before knocking the ball back for Gomez to centre and Rondon beat Puyol in the air to head past Pinto for the equalizer. Messi was having little luck with his runs and it was left to Iniesta to make the difference, spurting into the area he was blocked by Gamez and the referee pointed to the spot. Messi sent Kameni the wrong way for goal number 66. Malaga remained dangerous in moments and just before half time Fabregas had to make an excellent sliding block to stop Duda’s shot.
Malaga had another chance at the start of the second half when Alves inadvertently played in Roldon who flicked the ball across the goalmouth but Fabregas was on hand to clear. From a possible 2-2 Barça made it 3-1 soon after, Adriano sent in a cross which Messi controlled with his chest but then before he could shoot he was nudged from behind by Duda and the ref again signalled for a penalty. This time Kameni guessed the right way but could do nothing to stop Messi equalling Müller’s record.
It took Messi just six more minutes to take the record for himself. Again it was Iniesta playing the important pass, threading the ball through the middle for Messi to dart after, flicking the ball over Kameni’s dive and following up to score in the empty net. There wasn’t much more action in the last twenty minutes, Bartra, Afellay and Tello came on as subs and Bartra looked pretty comfortable again at the back while Afellay probably needs more minutes to find his rhythm.
The crowd were again superb tonight with many banners and chants in favour of Pep Guardiola as well as support for Tito Vilanova. In some ways you might even say there was a festive mood at Camp Nou which considering it was a night when Real Madrid were set to win the league suggests again that culés have found a new maturity. We know we cannot always win but we are doing things the right way. Guardiola and the players have given everything and you can’t ask more for that. There will be some changes for sure, but nothing drastic. The model and philosophy have been proved to be successful and we should be happy that we will be sticking with the same ideas.
Barça: Pinto 7; Alves 6.5, Puyol 7.5 (Bartra m68, 7), Mascherano 6.5, Adriano 7; Keita 7, Fabregas 6, Iniesta 8 (Afellay m75, 6); Pedro 7 (Tello m84, –), Messi 7, Cuenca 6.
Malaga: Kameni; S. Sánchez, Jesús Gámez, Demichelis, Eliseu; Camacho, Duda; Portillo, Buonanotte (Fernandez m61), Cazorla (Recio m68); Rondón (Van Nistlerooy m61)
Goals: m13 Puyol 1-0, m26 Rondon 1-1, m34 Messi (pen) 2-1, m58 Messi (pen) 3-1, m64 Messi 4-1.
Yellow cards: m57 Camacho, m67 Pedro, m82 Fabregas