Lionel Messi becomes highest scorer in Barcelona's history after hat-trick against Granada
Argentina striker's treble helps Barca to a 5-3 win to close on La Liga leaders Real Madrid
Messi's haul takes his tally to 234 for the club, past Cesar Rodriguez's long-held record
The 24-year-old has 54 goals for the Spanish and European champions this season
Lionel Messi’s became Barcelona’s highest goalscorer of all time after his hat-trick against Granada helped the Spanish champions close on La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
The Argentina striker, who is still only 24 years old, took his tally to 234 goals for the club to overtake Cesar Rodriguez, who had a prolific spell for Barca in the 1940s and ’50s.
Messi took his tally for the season to 54 in 45 games as Barca’s 5-3 victory on Tuesday helped cut the gap to rivals Real to just five points.
Barca have played a game more than Real, but now the second league “El Clasico” of the season between the two clubs scheduled for April 22 looks increasingly pivotal in the title race.
“We are witnessing the best player in every sense,” said Messi’s coach Josep Guardiola. “He does everything, and he does it every three days.
“I’m sorry for those that want to sit on his throne, but this lad is the best. Hopefully we can enjoy his football for many more years.”
Guardiola compared Messi’s dominance in football to the basketball supremacy of NBA legend Michael Jordan.
“Leo has rightfully entered into history,” he said. “There are few players that dominate in this fashion, and he does it.”
A recent study by Barcelona’s Center of Documentation and Studies discovered that Cesar had scored 232 goals in competitive matches, not 235 as previously thought.
And Messi wasted little time in equaling Cesar’s tally, with a crisp volley after Isaac Cuenca’s cross had fallen to him on the right edge of the box after 17 minutes.
His opening goal made it 2-0 on the night after Messi had teed up Spain midfielder Xavi for the first after only six minutes.
But Granada – placed 15th in the 20-team division – stunned Barca in the second half as Diego Mainz headed a free-kick past Victor Valdes before Dani Benítez drew a foul from Dani Alves in the box and Guillherme Siqueira fired home from the penalty spot.
The visitors weren’t level for long as Alves floated a ball over their defense for Messi, who controlled and lobbed Granada goalkeeper Julio Cesar to spark a prolonged round of celebrations with his teammates.
Tello added a fifth for Barca when he slotted home in the final 10 minutes after Messi had been denied by Cesar.
The gloss was removed ever so slightly from Messi’s record-breaking night when Alves was sent off after conceding another penalty, converted by Siqueira, and defender Adriano was sidelined for 10 days with a leg injury.
In La Liga’s other game on Tuesday, Osasuna moved into sixth place in the table despite drawing 0-0 with Getafe, who remain 11th.
Elsewhere, Juventus booked a place in the Italian Cup final after Mirko Vucinic’s extra-time strike sealed a 4-3 aggregate win over AC Milan.
Leading 2-1 from the first leg, Juve edged further ahead when veteran striker Alessandro Del Piero scored on 28 minutes but Serie A leaders Milan hit back with goals from Djamel Mesbah and Maxi Lopez to force an extra half an hour.
But Vucinic’s goal five minutes into the extra period settled the tie. Juve will face either Napoli or Siena in the final – they play on Wednesday with Napoli trailing 2-1 from the first leg.
Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers boosted their hopes of English Premier League survival with a 2-0 win over Sunderland at Ewood Park.
Striker Junior Hoilett opened the scoring with a 58th-minute volley to record his third goal in two games before a late Yakubu header sealed back-to-back wins for Rovers, who moved six points clear of the drop zone.