Messi breaks Ronaldo’s Spanish hat-trick mark, sends Barca on top - GulfToday

Messi breaks Ronaldo’s Spanish hat-trick mark, sends Barca on top

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Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leaps over Mallorca’s goalkeeper Manolo Reina, on the ground, during their Spanish League match at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday. Associated Press

Lionel Messi scaled a new height with a record 35th career hat-trick as Barcelona trounced a hapless Mallorca 5-2 to heat up the title race on Saturday.

Messi, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, stamped his class once again as he got his name engraved at the pinnacle of the Spanish League, surpassing Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 34 trebles.

Messi’s treble combined with Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann’s goals gave Barca a stunning finish, sending to the top of the table.

Arguably it was Suarez’s back-heel goal that stole the show with a free-flowing move, passing seven players. The efforts of Messi and Suarez overshadowed Antoine Griezmann’s opener but that was impressive too, the Frenchman applying a sumptuous chip after being assisted by his own goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

 An exhibition of creativity at Camp Nou allowed for the occasional lapse in defence and Mallorca’s Ante Budimir twice reduced the deficit to 2-1 and 4-2, even if a comeback never looked likely.

Instead, Messi underlined his status as the world’s finest footballer with another sublime performance, instant evidence for why he was presented with his latest Ballon d’Or trophy on the pitch before kick-off.

Messi now has 12 goals this season, the highest in the division and one ahead of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who had scored one and set up another in an equally comfortable 2-0 victory over Espanyol a few hours earlier.

It means Real and Barcelona are back level on points at the top of the table, with Barca ahead on goal difference. Sevilla, in third, are four points further back.

Benzema’s own irresistible form in parallel with Messi adds an intriguing sub-plot to the upcoming Clasico on Dec.18, which looks increasingly likely to decide who will sit first over the Christmas break.

After rocky starts, La Liga’s most successful two clubs also appear to be hitting their stride ahead of what is shaping up to be a crunch meeting in 11 days’ time. Messi in this mood will be hard to stop. For his first goal, he cut in from the right and bent the ball into the top left-hand corner and his second was almost a carbon copy, Suarez setting it back for his partner to hit the same spot.

In between, Budimir latched onto an excellent reverse pass by Salva Sevilla to briefly give Mallorca hope after Griezmann had opened the scoring, racing onto Ter Stegen’s through ball and scooping it over Manolo Reina.

Suarez hit the post and then stumbled after skipping around Reina but he made up for both two minutes before half-time with arguably the goal of the night.  Ten passes, involving seven different players, ended with Suarez with his back to goal and somehow the Uruguayan dug out a superb shot with the back of his foot that span into the far corner. Frenkie de Jong had been instrumental in the build-up.

Budimir capitalised on a rare Ter Stegen error to head in before Messi completed his hat-trick with seven minutes left. Sergi Roberto pulled back for Suarez, who set it up for Messi. His shot clipped the crossbar on its way in.

Earlier, Benzema gave the assist to his compatriot Raphael Varane before scoring his 15th goal of the season.  Varane’s goal came in the 37th minute after Benzema had bundled through on the edge of the box. With his left foot, Varane stabbed into the far corner.

Vinicius Junior, lively on his first start since October 19, might have made it two after tearing away on the break but he failed to beat Diego Lopez at his near post. Benzema also missed from a Vinicius cross but finally got his goal with 11 minutes left. He threaded in Fede Valverde with a smart reverse pass and then continued his run, before meeting the pull-back and finding the corner.

Defeat means Espanyol stay 19th in the table, five points adrift of Mallorca in 17th.

Meanwhile, Real Betis captain Joaquin Sanchez wrote himself into the history books on Sunday with a treble against Athletic Bilbao which meant he became the oldest player to score a hat-trick in La Liga.

The midfielder, 38, who is in his second spell with boyhood club Betis, gave his side the lead against Athletic in the second minute before striking again in the 11th.

He made it 3-0 with a superb first-time finish into the bottom corner in the 20th minute, overtaking the late Alfredo di Stefano as the oldest player to score a La Liga hat-trick, whose last treble was in 1964 when he was 37.

Athletic hit back through a Inaki Williams penalty to make it 3-1 at halftime.

Agencies