Madrid: Lionel Messi broke yet another record by hitting his 35th La Liga hat-trick on Saturday as Barcelona thrashed Real Mallorca 5-2 to keep pace with Real Madrid at the top of the table.
A trio of vintage Messi finishes contributed to five stunning Barca goals, the best of them arguably belonging to Luis Suarez, whose brilliant backheel capped a free-flowing move, involving seven different players.
But at the end of a week in which Messi claimed a record sixth Ballon d’Or, the Argentinian etched his name into the history books again after pulling clear of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 34 La Liga hat-tricks to stand alone.
The efforts of Messi and Suarez overshadowed Antoine Griezmann’s opener but that was impressive too, the Frenchman applying a sumptuous chip after being assisted by his own goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
An exhibition of creativity at Camp Nou allowed for the occasional lapse in defence and Mallorca’s Ante Budimir twice reduced the deficit to 2-1 and 4-2, even if a comeback never looked likely.
Instead, Messi underlined his status as the world’s finest footballer with another sublime performance, instant evidence for why he was presented with his latest Ballon d’Or trophy on the pitch before kick-off.
Messi now has 12 goals this season, the highest in the division and one ahead of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who had scored one and set up another in an equally comfortable 2-0 victory over Espanyol a few hours earlier.
It means Madrid and Barcelona are back level on points at the top of the table, with Barca ahead on goal difference. Sevilla, in third, are four points further back.
Benzema’s own irresistable form in parallel with Messi adds an intriguing sub-plot to the upcoming Clasico on December 18, which looks increasingly likely to decide who will sit first over the Christmas break.
La Liga’s most successful duo also appear to have overcome their rocky starts, with both now hitting their stride ahead of what is shaping up to be a crunch meeting in 11 days time.
Earlier, Benzema teed up his compatriot Raphael Varane before scoring his 15th goal of the season to put Espanyol out of sight at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“We’re talking about Karim a lot recently, in a good way,” said Zidane. “He’s getting older and that’s made a difference, his maturity.
“None of us are perfect. But he’s asked to chase and he does it. He’s asked to score and he does it. I can’t ask for more, only that he keeps doing it.”
Spanish La Liga
Real Madrid 2 Espanyol 0
Granada 3 Alaves 0
Levante 2 Valencia 4
Barcelona 5 Real Mallorca 2
Atalanta 3 Hellas Verona 2
Udinese 1 Napoli 1
Lazio 3 Juventus 1
Montpellier 1, Paris Saint-Germain 3
Nice 4 Metz 1
FC Stade Rennes 2 Angers 1
Strasbourg 4 Toulouse 2
AS Monaco 3 Amiens 2