March 7, 2014
Spanish League — La LigaSunday, February 16, 2014
Messi tops Di Stéfano as Barça goes clear
Shares lead with Atlético as both teams get easy victories
Lionel Messi overtook Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stéfano’s La Liga goals tally as Barcelona and Atlético Madrid each won yesterday to pull three points clear of Real Madrid at the top.
BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi scored two goals and set up another to help Barcelona brush aside Rayo Vallecano 6-0 and keep its share of the Spanish league lead yesterday, after fellow pacesetter Atlético Madrid beat Valladolid 3-0.
Barcelona’s big win, which included the scoring return of Neymar after a monthlong injury absence, came three days before it visits Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Barcelona punished a visiting Rayo side intent on trying to deploy a similar precision passing attack and was unfortunate to head into halftime only up 2-0 from Adriano’s second-minute opener and Messi’s lob in the 36th.
The Camp Nou hosts found their finishing touch in the second half, as Messi struck again before assisting Alexis Sánchez, with Pedro Rodríguez and Neymar also adding goals.
Messi’s double gave him 228 goals in league play at the age of 26, giving him one more than Alfredo Di Stéfano and tying him with Raúl González as the competition’s third all-time leading scorer. Telmo Zarra holds the record with 251.
The Argentina forward appears to have regained his full fitness following a two-month injury layoff with four goals in his last two games. And while Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino rested Xavi Hernández to have him fresh for City, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fábregas picked apart Rayo with their passing.
“We played a complete game, both in attack and in defence,” Adriano said. “It was time we had a match at home like this. Now we need to rest up and Tuesday we have to be 100 percent again.”
Atlético likewise dominated its home match after Raúl García scored three minutes in from a set-piece and seconds later passed for Diego Costa to record his 21st league goal of the season, one less than leader Cristiano Ronaldo. Diego Godín scored in the 74th minute of Atlético’s placid victory that saw goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and striker David Villa return from injury absences.
Atlético’s win ended a run of three straight losses before it visits AC Milan on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Barcelona and Atlético opened up a provisional three-point advantage over Real Madrid before it plays at Getafe today.
Rayo and Valladolid, meanwhile, remained in the relegation zone along with Real Betis.
Adriano has scored several long-range goals for Barcelona, and the Brazilian defender struck again from outside the box to get Barcelona going just moments after the whistle.
Rayo’s insistence to try and work the ball up the pitch with short passes played into Barcelona’s pressure and resulted in a slew of chances for the defending champions.
Messi hit the right post after Sergio Busquets recovered the ball in the 14th, and four minutes later Pedro rattled the left upright.
Messi forced goalkeeper Rubén Martínez to make a pair of saves before Fábregas intercepted another errant pass and spotted Messi completely unmarked near Rayo’s box. Messi dribbled forward and easily chipped the ball over Martínez to double the lead.
Messi found Alexis all alone to beat Martínez in the 53rd and tally his team-leading 15th league goal of the season, and three minutes later Pedro tapped in a short pass from Fábregas, who was played clear by Iniesta’s deft back-heeled flick.
Messi took his second goal in the 68th with a left-footed shot just inside the upright, and Neymar capped the rout in the 89th after he came on as a substitute.
The Brazil striker, who had been out since hurting his right ankle on January 16, dribbled past various defenders before unleashing a long-range strike that sailed in over Martínez.