Thursday, January 26, 2012

Messi Crushes Malaga


"Lionel Messi scored a rare header in his hat-trick on Sunday to lead Barcelona to a 4-1 win at Malaga, keeping the pressure on Spanish leaders Real Madrid, who later stayed five points clear at the top with a 4-1 win over 10-man Athletic Bilbao.

Messi started the rout in the 33rd minute and then added two more after Alexis Sanchez had doubled the lead at the start of the second half. The Argentina forward now has 22 goals this season so far in just 19 appearances.

Despite Pep Guardiola's side's strong showing, the hosts were the more threatening side in the early going. Before 20 minutes had passed, Isco had three chances in the space of two minutes, but Victor Valdes saved each acrobatically to keep the contest scoreless.

Barcelona have struggled away from home this season, with just one win in their previous four outings. But once Messi found the net for just the second time on the road this campaign, the hosts had little trouble making Malaga look like the team they were before a 60-million-Euros overhaul in the off-season.

Andres Iniesta passed to Adriano out wide and he squared for Messi to guide a graceful header past diving goalkeeper Willy Caballero in the 33rd. The Fifa Ballon d'Or winner finished powerfully into the left side of the net, beating the outstretched arms of Caballero. It was Messi's first headed goal in the league this season and just his 10th-ever for Barcelona out of 216 goals.

"(Messi's) greatest virtue is his consistency," Guardiola said. "He has been playing at such a high level for a long time. These goals will help him in the games to come."

Barcelona made short work of Malaga after half-time as the visitors improved, with Alexis Sanchez pouncing on the rebound following a shot by Thiago Alcantara and firing inside the top of the goal in the 48th.

As special as his first goal was, the second was pure Messi. The three-time Ballon D'Or winner put the result beyond doubt three minutes later when he recovered the ball in Malaga territory, skirted through a swarm of reeling defenders and slotted a left-footed strike into the left corner.

He hit the crossbar from a free kick in the 75th but was not to be denied seven minutes later when he charged down the left flank, rode a defender's tackle and beat Caballero with a light touch of his left foot to send the ball bouncing into the far side of the net.

"There is a long way to go, all the second half of the season, and we will keep pushing all the way," Messi said."