Lionel Messi on Saturday hit a sumptuous hat-trick, the 50th of his career, to inspire Barcelona to a 4-2 victory over Sevilla and take them one step closer to winning La Liga.
Messi was supposed to be lacking fitness and Barca struggling for form, but both delivered a resounding response at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with two matches against Real Madrid just around the corner.
After scoring 11 goals in nine games, Messi’s thigh strain had coincided with a dip in his own high standards, one goal in four prompting concerns that he was being pushed too far.
However, the Argentinian was back to his scintillating best — this his 44th treble for Barcelona, now the joint most for a Spanish club alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, rounded off by a trademark chip late on.
“We cannot always be at our best,” Messi said afterward. “We came from a streak when, to be honest, we weren’t playing our best football. If the game flows it is easier to score goals.”
Sevilla’s top-four hopes look increasingly uncertain, but for Barcelona, this was one of the toughest tests left in their run-in, with perhaps the most difficult to come next weekend, against Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real, who yesterday faced Levante UD, sit 12 points behind Barca and their best hope of a domestic trophy is surely in beating them first on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey.
Sevilla had started at a furious pace and it was the speedy Jesus Navas that scored first, sprinting almost 78m to meet the end of a slick counterattack. Messi lost the ball and Ben Yedder set off through the center, teeing up Navas on the right to find the far corner.
Messi soon made amends. Ivan Rakitic sent over a dangling cross, which he volleyed sweetly past Tomas Vaclik with his left foot.
Messi provided the finishing touch. Again it came from the goalkeeper, Vaclik’s punt falling straight to Rakitic. Dembele pulled back for Messi, who took one touch and curled it, this time right-footed, into the top corner. Sevilla looked dead on their feet, their early intensity draining away, and Messi landed the knock-out blow.
There was a hint of fortune as Carles Alena’s shot deflected neatly into his path. Vaclik came out but Messi scooped it over his body and in.
Three times a scorer, there was still time for an assist. Messi chested and poked the ball through for Suarez. His lob made it four.
“This is not the title almost won, but it was important to win today,” Messi said. “It gets harder toward the end and it is never easy here. Today, we were back to being us.”
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two
Former MLB pitcher Wang Wei-chung has signed the biggest contract with a local team in Taiwan’s professional baseball history, the Wei Chuan Dragons said yesterday. The 28-year-old left-hander signed a five-year US$2.08 million contract with the Dragons, team chairman Hsu Wen-fang told a news conference. It is the biggest contract in the CPBL’s 31-year history, surpassing a three-year, US$1.36 million deal Lin Chih-sheng signed in 2016 with the CTBC Brothers. Although the overall value of Wang’s deal set a new record, his average monthly salary of NT$990,000 (US$33,886) is lower than Lin’s pay of NT$1.2 million per month in 2017