Messi nets hat trick, Barcelona regains Spanish league lead
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 10, 2016 02:34 AM
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left, scores past Granada's goalkeeper Andres Fernandez during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Grenada, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi's first hat trick of the season helped Barcelona beat Granada 4-0 and take a provisional lead of the Spanish league on Saturday.
Messi scored twice within the first 15 minutes at the Camp Nou, and added his third in the second half as Barcelona cruised to victory. Neymar closed the scoring late.
The victory lifted Barcelona one point above Atletico Madrid, which plays at fifth-place Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Barcelona will have a game in hand after the 19th round this weekend.
Third-place Real Madrid was five points behind Barcelona. It hosted Deportivo La Coruna late Saturday in the debut of new coach Zinedine Zidane, who replaced the fired Rafa Benitez this week.
Barcelona had drawn four of its last six matches but was coming off a 4-1 win over city rival Espanyol in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey. It had been held by Espanyol to a scoreless draw in the previous league round.
"I'm very satisfied with how the team played today," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "Everybody was focused from the beginning. The players knew how important it was to win these three points."
Barcelona dominated Granada, which was only 17th in the 20-team standings. Messi and Neymar got the goals but Luis Suarez also played well and had chances to score.
"We could have scored more," Barcelona defender Aleix Vidal said. "But the main thing was to get the three points. We are back in the lead, now we'll see what happens in the other matches."
Messi found the net from close range after a pass from Arda Turan, then bagged his second six minutes later by striking an open net after a pass by Suarez. Messi's third goal came after Neymar struck the post and the ball rebounded to Messi inside the area for his ninth league goal.
It was Messi's 33rd career hat trick. He is favored to win a record fifth Ballon d'Or on Monday, from a shortlist with Neymar and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Neymar sealed Barcelona's victory from close range, scoring his 15th league goal to tie Suarez as the competition's leading scorer. Ronaldo had 14 entering Madrid's game.
Dani Alves, who this week called Spanish media "garbage" for the way it covers soccer, came off the bench in the second half and was loudly cheered by the Barcelona fans.
The club initially condemned Alves' comments, but late Friday said it would give its support to the player in case a local association of sports media went ahead with its threat to sue the Brazilian right back.
Barcelona has a game in hand against 18th-place Sporting Gijon because it played in the Club World Cup last month, and won.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni