Leo Messi inspired Barça to an impressive 5-1 win over Sevilla at Camp Nou tonight to remain just two points behind Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. For three games Messi had been stuck just one goal behind Telmo Zarra as the highest ever goalscorer in the Spanish league but tonight he grabbed a splendid hat-trick to smash the record. The Argentinian opened the scoring with a sensational free-kick before a Jordi Alba own goal put Sevilla back in the game early in the second half. Neymar Jr and Ivan Rakitic restored Barça’s lead before Messi finished the job with two late strikes. He now has 253 league goals to his name in a total of 289 games.
Andrés Iniesta was not considered fit enough to feature while Javier Mascherano was rested which meant Luis Enrique gave a new opportunity to Gerard Piqué in defence as Barça started with Bravo, Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Rakitic, Suarez, Messi and Neymar.
Barça began solidly with Busquets looking more like his old self, covering space well and winning back the ball on several occasions. In fact, what impressed most early on was Barça’s work without the ball which frustrated Sevilla on the rare occasions the visitors had possession. However, Barça’s chances were also limited though Messi tested Beto in the eighth minute and three minutes later the Sevilla keeper only just beat Suarez to Xavi’s chip into the area.
Messi and Suarez often switched positions with Messi moving to the right. However, the Argentinian can never stay too long stuck to the wing and in the 20th minute he worked his way infield to win a foul off Banega 23 yards out just left of centre. Camp Nou bristled with anticipation and Messi didn’t disappoint, curling the ball over the wall and into the top corner leaving the aethetically-pleasing sight of poor Beto crashing against the post in his desperate attempt to stop the shot.
Sevilla made an innocuous push to get back in the game but Barça’s centre-backs were rarely under pressure with just one good sliding intervention from Mathieu to block Bacca. Barça’s workrate remained high with Messi tracking back to break up a Sevilla attack on the edge of the Barça area. Bravo was a virtual spectator throughout the game but Barça were also lacking chances to increase the lead. Then just before half-time Messi played a glorious ball for Alba to get into the area and the full-back managed to slip the ball through Beto’s legs but Carriço cleared off the line before Suarez to add the finishing touch. From the resulting corner the ball came out to Busquets who played a direct ball into Neymar who turned and shot but Beto stretched his left foot to save.
The failure to take a bigger first half lead was punished when Sevilla stole an equalizer in the 47th minute with the entire Barça defence at fault. First Alves and then Piqué failed to stop Vitolo on the left and when the cross came in neither Mathieu nor Bravo cut the ball out as they worried about Denis Suarez and the ball came through and bounced off Alba and over the line.
At this point the game’s outcome was anybody’s guess but Barça were quickly back in front after Pareja fouled Suarez and Xavi’s free-kick found Neymar unchallenged to glance a header inside the post. Barça returned to control mode and the patient approach would eventually tire the visitors and break them down.
Barça needed to wait until the 65th minute to put the result beyond doubt. Piqué played a ball up the right and the hard-working Suarez chased to keep the ball in. The Uruguayan then paused before sending a cross to the far post for the late run from Rakitic who headed home from close range.
There was now time for Barça to enjoy the game and Messi would soon go past Zarra. In the 72nd minute Mathieu broke down a Sevilla attack and Xavi quickly got the ball forward to the Argentinian. he sped forward with just two defenders in front of him and Neymar to the left and Suarez to the right. Messi chose Neymar and the Brazilian drew Beto before slipping the ball back for Messi to complete the job. Messi’s team-mates threw him in the air in celebration and Messi’s chuffed face showed how much the record meant to him.
Messi completed his hat-trick six minutes later with a trademark goal. Busquets won the ball and got it to the Argentinian who cut across the edge of the area from right to left before playing a wall pass off Neymar and sweeping a low shot just inside Beto’s right-hand post. There was still time for a Neymar volley at the keeper and two late opportunities for Messi but he couldn’t add any more. At the final whistle his record was celebrated on the pitch in an act that will also be remembered for the boos heard for Bartomeu and Zubizarreta.
The win will help to dispel a few of the doubts that had been growing around the club in recent weeks. Messi’s position has been reinforced and his display today could well be a result of the #siempremessi twitter campaign organised by El Mundo Deportivo for fans to demonstrate their appreciation of the player. Sergio Busquets thankfully looked back to his best and he showed just how important he can be with a commanding performance, and there should also be a mention for Jordi Alba who despite the own goal gave an admirable showing at left back. However, there is still room for improvement in some areas as demonstrated by Sevilla’s goal, while there was another disappointing game from Rakitic who despite his goal was not as involved as he should be.
Barça: Bravo 6; Alves 6.5, Piqué 6.5, Mathieu 6.5, Alba 8 (Adriano m81, 6); Xavi 7.5 (Rafinha m77, 6.5), Busquets 8, Rakitic 6; Suárez 7.5 (Pedro m74, 6.5), Messi 9, Neymar 7.5.
Sevilla: Beto; Coke, Pareja, Carriço, Figueiras; Banega, Krychowiak; Vidal (Deulofeu m61), Denis Suarez (Gameiro m61), Vitolo; Bacca
Goals: m21 Messi 1-0, m47 Alba (o.g.) 1-1, m49 Neymar 2-1, m65 Rakitic 3-1, m72 Messi 4-1, m78 Messi 5-1.
Yellow cards: m36 Coke, m48 Pareja, m56 Mathieu