Tue, Mar 10, 2015 - Page 20 News List

Messi’s record-setting hat-trick sends Barcelona top

LATE EQUALIZER:Atletico Madrid’s bid to retain their title suffered another damaging blow as they were held 1-1 by Valencia in a caustic clash at the Vicente Calderon

AP, BARCELONA, Spain

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, top, scores past Rayo Vallecano de Madrid goalkeeper Cristian Alvarez in their La Liga match at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi fired a record-setting hat-trick to help Barcelona rout Rayo Vallecano de Madrid 6-1 and go top of La Liga on Sunday.

Messi’s three second-half goals completed his 32nd career treble in all competitions for Barcelona, breaking a Spanish record held by former Athletic Bilbao great Telmo Zarra with 31. Messi also became the all-time leader in hat-tricks scored in La Liga with 24, one more than rival Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Argentina forward made sure Barcelona capitalized on Madrid’s latest slip — a 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday — to move one point ahead at the top of the table, with the fierce rivals set to meet in the Catalan capital in two weeks.

Luis Suarez got Barcelona going in the sixth minute at the Camp Nou with his first of two goals, before Gerard Pique tapped in a ball Jordi Alba had headed off the post four minutes after halftime.

Messi’s treble in a 13-minute span came after he missed his second penalty in as many weeks following Roberto “Tito” Triguero’s sending off for a second booking, but the referee ordered the spot-kick to be repeated because a Rayo player had entered the penalty area and the Argentine was not to be denied a second time.

He then struck twice more to equal Ronaldo’s La Liga-leading tally of 30 goals in 26 rounds. Ronaldo had once looked set to run away with the league’s individual scoring title when he led Messi by a margin of 25-13 goals through 15 matches.

The three goals took Messi’s season tally overall to 41 goals in 38 games, as he reached the 40-goal mark for a sixth consecutive season.

Barcelona also finished with 10 men when Dani Alves saw red for fouling Alberto Bueno, who converted the late penalty.

Suarez scored again in stoppage-time for his sixth goal in his past four appearances, as the former Liverpool striker finds his stride in time for crucial upcoming matches against Real Madrid in the league, Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League and a Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.

“Suarez plays well with Messi and is giving us more and more,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “It’s clear they have a special connection. When you put players of their talent together it gives us many more options in attack.”

While Barcelona rose past Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid’s title defense suffered another blow after they conceded a late goal in a testy 1-1 draw at home with Valencia.

Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi headed in a cross that goalkeeper Miguel Moya misjudged and let come off his bar in the 78th minute, canceling out a Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion goal for Atletico in the 33rd.

Atletico slipped seven points off the pace in third place after only one win in four matches. Valencia, who finished with 10 men after Javi Fuego received his second booking in the 90th minute, stayed one point behind in fourth.

Villarreal also strengthened their hold on sixth place by beating RC Celta de Vigo 4-1 at home through goals by Giovani dos Santos, Matteo Musacchio, Luciano Vietto and Gerard Moreno.

Real Sociedad edged visitors RCD Espanyol 1-0 thanks to Sergio Canales’ 38th-minute goal after goalkeeper Kiko Casilla gifted him the ball.

Barcelona now lead the standings for the first time since the ninth round of matches, more than four months ago.

“We have gotten to where we are by playing each game as it comes, but only one team will win the Copa and only one will win the league, the same with the Champions League, so we have to be prudent,” Enrique said.

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