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BARCELONA. — Lionel Messi stole the show with two free-kick goals in a blistering display as Barcelona maintained their lead at the top of the Spanish La Liga soccer table with a thumping 4-0 derby win over Catalan rivals Espanyol on Saturday night.
The Argentine superstar curled hom two sensational set-pieces and set up another goal as he and his teammates romped to victory at the RCDE Stadium and made sure Barca kept chasing Atletico Madrid and Sevilla at bay.
Atleti and Sevilla had moved level on 28 points with Barca on Saturday after Diego Simeone’s side defeated Alaves 3-0 and the Andalusians drew 1-1 at Valencia.
However, Messi made sure that Ernesto Valverde’s team kept their place at the top of the pile with a mesmerising display alongside front-three partners Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele that left Espanyol dead and buried by halftime.
“He is extraordinary,” said Valverde. “The free-kicks, the chances on goal that he creates, what he brings us and what he take from the opponent . . .
“It is still very early, La Liga is very tight, but the idea is to be solid away from home, knowing that winning is very difficult against every team.”
Messi insisted his fifth-place finish in Monday’s Ballon d’Or awards was not a motivating factor behind his sensational performance in Barcelona’s thrashing of local rivals Espanyol in La Liga on Saturday.
Messi, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, did not make the podium for the first time in a decade with Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric given the trophy.
“No,” said Barca captain Messi to Movistar when asked if he had extra motivation for the game because of the awards snub.
“We all came out fired-up from the start, really focused and determined. We knew (we had to because of) the stadium we were coming to and the opponents we were facing, they are having a great season.”
Messi’s teammates praised him, disagreeing with his placement in the Ballon d’Or rankings and the words of Brazil legend Pele who said the forward only has one foot and one skill.
“(Pele) must not be able to see very well if he said what he said about Messi,” Barcelona full back Jordi Alba said.
“The Ballon d’Or is a lie. Leo is always the best in the world. It was not fair on Messi.
“There are a lot of campaigns coming from Madrid. If Cristiano (Ronaldo) had been in Madrid maybe the media and the fans would have wanted him to win, but he left so, well, Modric. — AFP
Source : The Herald