Lionel Messi scores four times as Barcelona beat Valencia 5-1 in Spain's La Liga
Argentina striker takes his tally for the season to 42 goals, 27 in the league
Barca close the gap on league leaders Real Madrid to ten points
AC Milan go top of Italy's Serie A after a 3-1 win away at Cesena
Lionel Messi scored four times as Barcelona routed Valencia to keep alive their slim chances of overhauling Real Madrid at the top of Spain’s La Liga.
The Argentina striker took his tally for the league season to 27, one behind Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and has scored 44 in all competitions for the Spanish and European champions this campaign.
Barcelona’s win closed the gap on Real Madrid to 10 points, though Jose Mourinho’s side are still the overwhelming favorites to clinch the title with two and a half months of the season remaining.
“We’re so lucky to be living in a time when these players play. This team dignifies the sport,” coach Pep Guardiola said of his team’s performance.
“It’s a shame we’re so far away. I sincerely believe that our play isn’t representative of being 10 points down, but we are, and we have to live with it. The distance is what it is, let’s see if we can fulfill our job.”
Messi celebrated his 200th La Liga game for Barca with his 15th hat-trick for the Catalan club, and the 24-year-old has now notched 146 goals.
“It’s important that the team has found its form again, like we did in Germany (last week in the Champions League). We have to keep on playing like this, important games are coming up,” Messi said.
He hopes that Guardiola will renew his one-year contract and stay at the Nou Camp for a fifth season as coach.
“The manager knows what we think, but he will make his decision at the appropriate time. Obviously, we all want him to stay at Barca because, to us, he’s very important.”
Third-placed Valencia opened the scoring at Camp Nou with Pablo Piatti’s ninth-minute strike, but a two-goal burst from Messi put Barcelona ahead after 26 minutes.
Messi then pounced on a loose ball in the area to claim his hat-trick before a cheeky, scooped finish when clean through on goal made it four – the second time he has done so for Barca.
Spain midfielder Xavi put the seal on an emphatic victory in stoppage time.
Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao moved into fourth after a 3-1 win over Malaga as Fernando Amorebieta, Mikel San Jose and Gaizka Toquero scored the goals.
Atletico Madrid stayed sixth with a 1-1 draw away at Sporting Gijon, as Sebastian Eguren equalized for the home side after Roberto Canella’s own goal.
Granada moved away from the drop zone after beating Real Sociedad 4-1, both teams having a man sent off, while Mallorca thumped Villarreal 4-0 with Victor Casadesus grabbing two goals.
Rayo Vallecano moved up to eighth with a 5-3 win at Levante, Diego Da Silva Costa and Lass scoring two goals each.
In Italy, AC Milan usurped Juventus at the top of the table with a 3-1 win at Cesena. Sulley Muntari, Urby Emanuelson and Brazilian forward Robinho were on target as Milan went a point clear.
Udinese moved into third place on goal difference despite a 0-0 draw at home to Cagliari, due to Lazio’s 5-1 defeat at Palermo. A Fabio Borini goal was enough to see AS Roma past Parma and into fifth place.
Novara climbed off the foot of the table after a 0-0 draw at home to Atalanta, while Lecce thumped Siena 4-1 despite going a goal behind. Cyril Thereau scored the winner as Chievo won away at Genoa.
In Germany, Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored twice as Schalke beat VfL Wolfsburg 4-1 as they closed within one point of third-placed Bayern Munich.
In Sunday’s other match, Hannover moved level on points with sixth-placed Bayer Leverkusen after a 4-2 victory over VfB Stuttgart.