Lionel Messi rattled in a
17-minute hat-trick as Barcelona swept aside Real Mallorca 5-0
on Saturday while Real Madrid went top of La Liga with a 1-0 win
at Real Sociedad.
World Player of the Year Messi has not been at his best in
recent games, failing to score in three outings, but quashed any
debate over his form with a first-half treble at the Nou Camp
that took his league tally this season to 13.
Barca youngster Isaac Cuenca and Dani Alves wrapped up the
scoring in the second half to leave the champions second with 24
points from 10 games, one behind leaders Real.
Gonzalo Higuain gave Jose Mourinho's in-form Real Madrid a
ninth-minute lead in San Sebastian but the team that netted 28
times in their previous seven matches were denied another hefty
win by the battling Basques.
Barca coach Pep Guardiola left four World Cup winners on the
bench, with a fifth (Xavi) resting in the stands, but they were
not missed at the Nou Camp.
The hosts won a penalty for hand-ball in the 13th minute and
Messi, who had a last-minute spot-kick saved last weekend,
blasted the ball high into the net.
Adriano's cross-cum-shot was turned in by the Argentine in
the 21st and Messi then volleyed the third from an Alves cross
in the 30th.
Barca youth team forward Cuenca notched the fourth on his
home debut in the 50th minute, rounding the keeper from Thiago
Alcantara's defence-splitting pass, before Alves crashed in a
fifth from distance at the end.
"It was madness when they said I was in crisis after three
games," Messi told Spanish television.
"It doesn't bother me. I score when I can and when I don't
the important thing is the team win."
Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes kept a clean sheet for an
eighth game in a row and edged towards a club record.
The Spanish international last conceded 787 minutes ago, in
a 2-2 draw at Valencia last month, and is only 37 minutes short
of the mark held by Miguel Reina, father of Liverpool keeper
Pepe, from the 1972/73 season.
Higuain ran on to Fabio Coentrao's pass and dinked the ball
over Claudio Bravo for the only goal at Socieded but Real Madrid
were unable to turn their first-half dominance into a bigger
Sociedad hit back after the break, forcing Iker Casillas
into a couple of top-class saves.
Earlier, Villarreal dragged themselves out of the bottom
three with a 2-0 victory at home to Rayo Vallecano, easing the
pressure on coach Juan Carlos Garrido.
Bruno Soriano headed in at a free-kick after 20 minutes and
captain Marcos Senna had a penalty saved just before the break.
Borja Valero settled nerves at the Madrigal with a solo
effort in the 67th minute, earning Villarreal their second
league win of the season.
The victory came at a cost, however, with Argentine striker
Marco Ruben limping off to join first-choice forwards Nilmar and
Giuseppe Rossi on the injury list.
Villarreal climbed to 13th with 10 points.
Elsewhere, fourth-placed Valencia (21 points) were 3-1
winners at home to Getafe.
Valencia midfielder Sofiane Feghouli scored his first league
goals for the club in the first half, either side of a Diego
Castro strike for Getafe.
Aritz Aduriz wrapped up the points from a superb pass by
Ever Banega in the 76th minute.
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