Leo Messi was denied a fifth Ballon d’Or at Monday’s FIFA Gala but tonight he responded brilliantly to add some points to his 2015 campaign. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice earlier today as Madrid won 0-3 at Getafe but Messi went one better at Riazor with a splendid hat-trick in Barça’s 0-4 demolition of Deportivo de La Coruña.
Luis Enrique repeated the line-up that started against Atlético last week and the team responded with a strong performance. The work-rate was again worthy of note with the players appearing in excellent physical condition which enabled a high press which more or less asphyxiated the home side.
Neymar began very well on the left and Rakitic was busy in midfield but it was Messi, starting from the right wing, who provided the surprise factor. The Argentinian was seen chasing back to defend and dropping deep to start the play but it was his late arrivals in the penalty area that hurt Deportivo most. He came close to opening the scoring in the ninth minute when he met Rakitic’s corner with a low drive that forced Depor keeper Fabricio to make a top-notch save. A minute later Messi got clattered by an opponent as he knocked the ball on to Busquets but then he was quickly up to make a late sprint into the middle to meet Rakitic’s cross with a looping header over Fabricio and in.
With the goal advantage Barça controlled possession comfortably with the only concern coming from a couple of mistakes from Busquets. Luis Suarez worked hard as centre-forward but he also had a bit of an off-night, he was unlucky to be called offside after Iniesta’s pass but then he still shot wide. It mattered little as Depor offered little resistance and Messi was in blistering form. In the 33rd minute Messi was again involved in the build-up sending the ball out to Neymar on the left, the Brazilian’s pass caught Suarez on the heel and Messi pounced on the loose ball and scored with a sublime little flick over Fabricio.
Immediately after the second goal the Barça defence suffered a brief drop in concentration but ex-Barça boy Isaac Cuenca blazed his shot over from eight yards. There was little more from Depor, Cavaleira showed his ability to beat players but he was subbed off at half-time, and Claudio Bravo made a fine reaction save to deny Dominguez shortly before the hour after Piqué headed a ball in the air and Dominguez beat Busquets to win the position and sneak in an angled shot.
Messi got his third shortly after to end all hope for Depor. Barça took a short corner on the right and the home side’s defence allowed Messi to enter the area and find his shooting range. A lethal shot into the far corner completed his 30th Barça hat-trick and sealed the three points.
There was now time to give Bartra, Rafinha and Pedro a run out while resting Busquets, Iniesta and Neymar with Atlético in mind. Bartra made a couple of good interventions at the back while Rafinha showed his vision with a through ball for Suarez. Messi might have had a fourth but Sidnei managed to get in the way. Then in the 84th minute Alves’s dangerous cross forced Lopo to blast a clearance straight at Sidnei and the ball rebounded into the net. There was still time for a couple more half-chances for Suarez but first he fired straight at Fabricio and then in injury he couldn’t quite reach Alves’s cross as it skidded across the goalmouth.
The events of a couple of weeks ago seem much less significant now and judging from the way the team has performed since losing to Real Sociedad it seems obvious now that a lot of stuff was made up. If Messi has a problem with Luis Enrique there is no evidence in his play to suggest so as he again played the drifting right-sided role with discipline. The intensity is back throughout the team but this is especially reflected in Messi’s chasing back which we rarely saw under Tata Martino.
La Liga is still looking complicated with Madrid’s point-plus-game advantage. However, there is a long way to go, Madrid don’t look quite as solid as before Christmas and Barça are maintaining the pressure and finally scoring away from home.
We are still in all three competitions and there are reasons to feel more optimistic. Next up we have Atlético Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals starting with the first leg at Camp Nou on Wednesday night.
Deportivo: Fabricio; Juanfran, Lopo, Sidnei, Luisinho; Cuenca, Álex Bergantiños, Juan Dominguez, Medunjanin (Lucas Peres m79), Cavaleira (Juan Rodriguez h/t); Oriol Riera (Toché m63).
Barça: Bravo 7; Alves 6.5, Piqué 6, Mascherano 7, Alba 7; Rakitic 7, Busquets 6 (Bartra m66, 6.5), Iniesta 6.5 (Rafinha m66, 6.5); Messi 9, Suarez 6, Neymar 7.5 (Pedro m70, 6).
Goals: m10 Messi 0-1, m33 Messi 0-2, m62 Messi 0-3, m83 Sidnei (o.g.) 0-4.
Yellow cards: m59 Riera, m64 Toché, m68 Bartra, m78 Alves,
Attendance: 25, 173