Spanish League — La LigaMonday, January 6, 2014
Alexis nets three in Barcelona’s win
Messi watches the match from the stands
Showing no sign of missing the injured Lionel Messi and rested Neymar, Alexis Sánchez hit a hat-trick as Barcelona swept aside Elche 4-0 to return to the top of La Liga on goal difference ahead of Atlético Madrid.
BARCELONA, Spain — Alexis Sánchez netted his first hat-trick for Barcelona to spark its 4-0 win over Elche at Camp Nou on Sunday, setting up a highly anticipated showdown with Atlético Madrid next week between the top two teams in the Spanish league.
With Lionel Messi watching from the stands and Neymar waiting in the dugout, Barcelona turned to Alexis and its core of Spain internationals for a second straight victory without its star forwards on either side of the two-week winter break.
Alexis opened the scoring in the seventh minute and struck twice more in the 63rd and 69th after Pedro Rodríguez had doubled the advantage and Xavi Hernández had missed a penalty kick.
Barcelona’s victory was its ninth in as many league games at home this season, and it remained tied on points with Atlético atop the standings. The pressure is now on Real Madrid come today when it hosts Celta Vigo trailing the pacesetting pair by eight points.
Martino said he was as impressed by Alexis’ treble as anyone else, especially with his last goal from a free kick.
“Alexis takes free kicks well in practice,” Martino said. “When Leo, Xavi, Cesc or Neymar are playing, they almost never let him take one. One time he sent a free kick into the wall and we all thought it was his last. I told the bench that as a joke before he took today’s (yesterday’s) kick and he ended up scoring it.”
Elsewhere, Real Sociedad downed Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in an entertaining Basque Country derby to close to just one point of its rivals in fourth place and Spain’s last Champions League spot.
Carlos Bacca scored one goal and set up two more to help Sevilla beat Getafe 3-0 at home, provisionally lifting the club into sixth place behind Sociedad with its fifth victory in a six-game unbeaten streak in the league.
Osasuna edged Espanyol 1-0 in Pamplona thanks to Álvaro Cejudo’s 33rd-minute goal to escape the relegation zone. Espanyol coach Javier Aguirre was expelled from the dugout in the second half, apparently for arguing with the referee.
Messi tore his left hamstring on November 11 and only returned to training with Barcelona this week, having spent time in Argentina doing rehab. He was left off the squad for yesterday’s game and Martino will have to decide if he brings him back against Getafe on Wednesday in the King’s Cup to get him up to speed before the big trip to Atlético next Sunday.
“Messi is fine physically and in good spirits,” Martino said. “Whether he plays or not depends on his mentality, on whether he has gotten over the fear of the injury. Maybe we should have a little more patience (with him).”