MADRID, Spain – Barcelona will go into the brief Spanish winter break on top of La Liga after a glittering show from Lionel Messi helped the defending champions beat Alaves, 4-1, on Saturday, December 21.
Real Madrid, who drew 0-0 at Camp Nou in the midweek Clasico, can draw level top on 39 points but fall behind on goal difference if they win at home to Atletico Bilbao.
Seville are assured of 3rd place over Christmas on 34 points after their 2-0 win at Real Mallorca.
France World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann put Barca ahead with a lovely snapshot from outside the area after a slick exchange with Messi on 14 minutes.
“I needed to score a goal before the holidays, now I can go into them happy with myself,” said Griezmann who has scored just 7 goals since his summer move.
“We have a great team with some of the best players around and when we don’t click, well, there’s always Messi.”
Messi had already had a better strike ruled out by a harsh VAR decision, while Chilean forward Arturo Vidal had tried a dramatic overhead effort that the Alaves goalkeeper just about stopped with his feet.
Vidal bagged a second just before halftime when put into open space on the right as Barcelona overwhelmed the visitors, but they should have gone into the break more than 2-0 ahead.
Pere Pons pulled one back on 56 minute for Alaves with neither Gerard Pique nor the returning Samuel Umtiti on hand as his header flew home from close range.
Even with 4 defenders around him, Messi was unstoppable on the 69th minute as he unleashed a trademark left foot strike from outside the box.
The goal illustrated why the diminutive attacker recently won a sixth Ballon d’Or.
“It’s an enormous advantage having Leo, he can score you a goal from anywhere at any time,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde.
A sweetly-struck Luis Suarez penalty made it 4-1 on the 75th minute.
Messi goes into the break as La Liga’s top marksman with 13 goals ahead of Real’s Karim Benzema with 12.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane on Saturday promised to fight Barca all the way for the La Liga title this season as they prepare to host a motivated Athletic Bilbao.
“Bilbao are another rival and a different proposition. We will play them with all our energy, it’s the last game of the year.”
“The league is our priority and we will fight for it all the way,” he said.
There was a Latin American flavor to Sevilla’s 2-0 win at Mallorca earlier on Saturday as Brazilian defender Diego Carlos scored one and provided the other goal for the Argentine Ever Banega.
The victory ensured the Andalusians go into the break firmly in the Champions League qualifying spots.
As for Mallorca, who only have 15 points at the halfway stage, they are playing with fire just 5 points clear of rock-bottom Espanyol. – Rappler.com
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