La Liga: Messi shines in sparkling Barca's pre-Christmas stroll
France World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann put Barca ahead with a lovely snap-shot from outside the area after a slick exchange with Messi on 14 minutes
Madrid: Barcelona go into the brief Spanish winter break on top of La Liga after a glittering show from Lionel Messi helped the defending champions beat Alaves 4-1 on Saturday. Real Madrid, who drew 0-0 at Camp Nou in the midweek Clasico, can draw level top on 39 points but behind on goal difference if they win at home to Atletico Bilbao on Sunday. Seville are assured third place over Christmas on 34 points after their 2-0 win at Real Mallorca. France World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann put Barca ahead with a lovely snap-shot from outside the area after a slick exchange with Messi on 14 minutes.
"I needed to score a goal before the holidays, now I can go into them happy with myself," said Griezmann who has scored just seven goals since his summer move. "We have a great team with some of the best players around and when we don't click, well, there's always Messi." Messi had already had a better strike ruled out by a harsh VAR decision, while Mohican-haired Chile forward Arturo Vidal had tried a dramatic overhead effort that the Alaves goalkeeper just about stopped with his feet.
Vidal bagged a second just before half-time when put into open space on the right as Barcelona overwhelmed the visitors, but they should have gone into the break more than 2-0 ahead. Pere Pons pulled one back on 56 minute for Alaves with neither Gerard Pique nor the returning Samuel Umtiti on hand as his header flew home from close range. Even with four defenders around him, Messi was unstoppable on 69 minutes as he unleashed a trademark left foot strike from outside the box.
The goal illustrated why the diminutive attacker recently won a sixth Ballon d'Or. "It's an enormous advantage having Leo (Messi), he can score you a goal from anywhere at any time," said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde. A sweetly-struck Luis Suarez penalty made it 4-1 on 75 minutes. Messi goes into the break as La Liga's top marksman with 13 goals ahead of Real's Karim Benzema on 12. Real coach Zinedine Zidane on Saturday promised to fight Barca all the way for la Liga title this season, as they prepare to host a motivated Athletic Bilbao Sunday.
"Bilbao are another rival and a different proposition. We will play them with all our energy, it's the last game of the year. "The league is our priority and we will fight for it all the way," he said. There was a Latin American flavour to Sevilla's 2-0 win at Mallorca earlier on Saturday as Brazilian defender Diego Carlos scored one and provided the other goal for the Argentine Ever Banega. The victory ensured the Andalusians go into the break firmly in the Champions League qualifying spots. As for Mallorca, who only have 15 points at the half-way stage, they are playing with fire just five points clear of rock-bottom Espanyol.
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