Lionel Messi became the all-time top goalscorer in La Liga history with a hat-trick as Barcelona swept aside Sevilla 5-1 on Saturday to remain two points adrift of league leaders Real Madrid.
Messi, 27, moved level with legendary Basque striker Telmo Zarra when he opened the scoring with a trademark free-kick to register his 251st goal in his 289th appearance in the Spanish top flight.
A Jordi Alba own goal briefly brought Sevilla level early in the second-half, but Neymar swiftly restored Barca’s advantage before Ivan Rakitic made the game safe when he headed home Luis Suarez’s enticing cross against his old club.
Messi then took over as he slid in to convert Neymar’s low cross to set the new record and extended it moments later with a precise low finish to round off a fine evening for Luis Enrique’s men against a side that started the evening just two points adrift of the Catalans.
“When I scored this goal, I couldn’t imagine I could break any record, let alone this one previously held by the great Telmo Zarra,” wrote Messi on his Facebook page alongside his first Barca goal against Albacete in May, 2005.
“I was only able to achieve this because of the support I have had from so many people during my time here and I would like to dedicate this achievement to you all.”
Earlier, Real Madrid saw off Basque minnows Eibar’s dreams of a giant-killing thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo double to register their 14th consecutive win in all competitions with a 4-0 victory.
Champions Atletico Madrid remain four points off the top as they overcame Malaga 3-1 at the Vicente Calderon thanks to goals from Tiago, Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin.
At the other end of the table, Real Sociedad moved a point clear of the relegation zone in former Manchester United manager David Moyes’s bow as the Basques new coach as they drew 0-0 away to Deportivo la Coruna.
Sevilla were expected to pose a serious threat to a Barca side that has struggled in recent La Liga outings.
However, the hosts had complete control of the game in the first-half and could have been in front before Messi’s historic strike as the Argentine’s first effort of the match was smothered by Beto and the Portuguese ‘keeper then denied Luis Suarez from a narrow angle.
Messi’s moment came midway through the first-half as his free-kick curled perfectly into Beto’s top right-hand corner to register his 12th goal of the season.
Only some frantic defending kept the Andalusians in the game as Barca ended the half strongly as Nico Pareja slid in to prevent Suarez his first Barca goal after Alba had nutmegged Beto and the Portuguese ‘keeper showed smart reactions to deny Neymar from the resulting corner with an outstretched leg.
– Suarez frustrated –
All of Barca’s good work in the first 45 minutes was undone just over 60 seconds after the restart, though, as Vitolo eased past Gerard Pique down Sevilla’s left and his low cross was bundled into his own net by the unfortunate Alba.
It took the hosts just two minutes to make amends, however, as Xavi’s free-kick was headed low into the far corner by Neymar.
Suarez’s search for his first Barca goal will stretch into a fifth game, but the Uruguayan did provide his fourth assist in four outings with a great run and cross which left Rakitic with a simple task to make it 3-1.
Neymar unselfishly squared for Messi to move out on his own ahead of Zarra when he tapped home the Brazilian’s low cross and he was then thrown into the air by his teammates in celebration.
However, the four-time World Player of the Year wasn’t finished as he sealed his 27th Barcelona hat-trick from Neymar’s pass 13 minutes from time.
Real Madrid also enjoyed a comfortable afternoon in unfamiliar surroundings on their first league visit at the 5,000 capacity Ipurua stadium in Eibar.
The European champions had more than a touch of fortune in the first half as James Rodriguez headed home the opener despite Ronaldo and Karim Benzema appearing to be in an offside position in the build-up to the goal.
Ronaldo then doubled the lead himself with a mishit shot that looped beyond Xabi Irureta just before the break.
Benzema smashed home the third 20 minutes from time before Ronaldo rounded off the scoring from the penalty spot.
“The objective is to continue with this run because the team is playing well and the players are motivated,” said Real boss Carlo Ancelotti.
“But the season is very long and we need to continue with this type of attitude.” – Agence France-Presse