BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Twice a pack of Alavés defenders thought they had Lionel Messi under control. Twice Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer proved them wrong.
Messi scored two screamers in his record-equaling 505th Spanish league appearance for Barcelona to help them stay in touch with leader Atlético Madrid on Saturday.
Messi struck twice from well outside the area as Alavés was beaten 5-1. Messi matched former teammate Xavi Hernández’s club record for the most league appearances by starting the match at Camp Nou.
Forward Francisco Trincão also scored twice in Barcelona’s win before it hosts Paris Saint-Germain in their highly anticipated Champions League clash on Tuesday.
“The game comes at a good time,” coach Ronald Koeman said. “We are on a good run and creating lots of scoring chances. They are a strong team, but so are we.”
Atlético got goals from Marcos Llorente and Ángel Correa to win at Granada 2-1 and bounce back from a draw against Celta Vigo in the last round, which ended a winning run of eight consecutive rounds.
Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost only once in 21 rounds, is eight points clear of Barcelona and titleholder Real Madrid.
PREPARING FOR PSG
Koeman said his team is ready for PSG, especially with Messi playing like he is.
“Leo is decisive,” Koeman said. “When we find him with our interior passing lanes, and have players on the flanks giving him options, we make it easier for him because his vision is extraordinary. But to win this tie, we need Leo and all our players playing at their best.”
In preparation, Koeman rested some first-choice players and debuted midfielder Ilaix Moriba, aged 18, and started Trincão, Riqui Puig and Junior Firpo.
Moriba made an immediate impact when he provided an assist for Trincão to score in back-to-back league matches. Right back Óscar Minguez found a hole in Alavés’ disciplined defense when he reached the end-line and crossed to Moriba at the far post. Instead of shooting, Moriba laid off for Trincão to rifle home the 29th-minute opener.
Messi took his first goal just before halftime when he cut back from the right flank and unleashed a powerful shot between two defenders that ricocheted in off the bottom of the upright.
Moriba’s inexperience showed in the 57th when a poor pass was intercepted by Alavés’ Luis Rioja in Barcelona’s half, and he charged forward for 2-1.
Trincão got his second goal in the 74th by picking off a rebound of goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco’s save of Messi on the break.
Messi was not to be denied a minute later with another rocket from outside the box. He looked well tracked by five Alavés players as he approached the area, but a quick change of pace and a move to put the ball on his favored left foot was all he needed to drive an unstoppable shot into the corner.
Messi has eight goals in Barcelona’s seven-game winning run in the league.
Firpo rounded off the rout in the 80th.
Alético was stymied by Granada’s defense until Llorente struck in the 63rd from the edge of the area.
Yangel Herrera equalized three minutes later after Atlético’s only defensive letdown when it failed to clear a corner kick.
Correa put the front-runners back on top for good in the 75th with a shot that deflected off defender Jesús Vallejo and looped in over goalkeeper Rui Silva.
Coach Diego Simeone praised Yannick Carrasco and Mario Hermoso after recovering from the coronavirus.
“Carrasco and Hermoso spent 14 days at home without playing. Do you know how difficult that is?” Simeone asked. “I had the coronavirus and I know all the work they had to do.”
Atlético was still without infected forwards João Félix, Thomas Lemar, Moussa Dembélé, and midfielder Héctor Herrera.
Sevilla earned a ninth consecutive win across all competitions and strengthened its hold on fourth place after Munir El Haddadi’s second-half header downed Huesca 1-0.
Borussia Dortmund comes to Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday.
Also, Eibar was held by Valladolid to 1-1.