Mon, Feb 25, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Fiftieth Lionel Messi hat-trick fires up Barcelona to thrilling win over Sevilla

AFP, SEVILLE, Spain

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, top, celebrates with teammate Ousmane Dembele after scoring against Sevilla in their La Liga match at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium in Sevilla on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

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.”

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