BARCELONA: Lionel Messi remains unstoppable. He scored both goals in Barcelona’s 2-0 derby win over Espanyol to keep the Spanish champions in command of LaLiga and surpassed 40 goals in a season for the 10th consecutive year.
Messi broke the deadlock in the 71st minute by chipping a typically audacious Panenka-style free kick over the wall. He added his second goal one minute from time.
Coach Ernesto Valverde said he was pleased with the way his side overcame their early frustrations to claim another important win and admitted he had no idea Messi would attempt his remarkable free kick.
Valverde added: “I’d love to say it’s something we plan but it’s not like that, he did not pay attention to me and scored a goal.”
Former Chelsea forwards Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata scored as second-placed Atletico Madrid won 4-0 at Alaves. Saúl Ñíguez and Teye Thomas were also on target for the visitors, who are 10 points behind Barcelona.
In France . . .
Marseille’s Mario Balotelli scored twice in vain as Angers came from two goals down to draw 2-2 in Ligue 1. Balotelli controlled the ball before firing into the net in the fourth minute. The goal was originally disallowed for offside before a video assistant referee review reversed the decision.
The Italian doubled his side’s lead 12 minutes later when he found himself in space at the edge of the box and took a touch before putting the ball in the corner.
Angers pulled one back before half-time with Thomas Mangani converting from the spot in the 36th minute. The referee awarded Angers a second penalty with 15 minutes remaining. Mangani stepped up for the second time and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to score the equaliser.
In Germany . . .
Champions Bayern Munich stumbled to a 1-1 draw at Freiburg to hand the Bundesliga top spot back to Borussia Dortmund who beat Wolfsburg 2-0.
The Bavarians, who had won 13 of their previous 14 league games, cancelled out Lucas Hoeler’s third-minute strike with Robert Lewandowski’s 199th Bundesliga goal in the 22nd minute. But their backline featuring Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, who were both dropped from the national team recently, looked shaky and Freiburg could have grabbed another.
Bayern gradually assumed control but the Poland striker’s sensational volley for the equaliser was not enough.
Coach Niko Kovac said: “In the second half we had a large number of chances which we simply did not use. Otherwise we would have won easily. Now we are running behind [Dortmund] again. It is frustrating.”
Next weekend sees Bayern face Dortmund who needed a late double from Paco Alcacer to secure all three points against Wolfsburg despite the absence of top scorer Marco Reus.
Alcacer scored direct from a free kick in the first minute of stoppage time, and tapped home a second three minutes later. The Spanish striker has become a late goal specialist, with 11 of his 16 Bundesliga goals this season coming in the last 10 minutes of matches.
In Italy . . .
Moise Kean followed up two goals in his first two starts for Italy by stepping off the subs’ bench to secure injury-hit Juventus a 1-0 win over visiting Empoli. The 19-year-0ld’s three Serie A goals have come from his first three shots.
The latest goal was set up by Mario Mandzukic, who knocked down a long ball for Kean to score with the aid of a deflection only three minutes after replacing Blaise Matuidi.
With Italy, Kean scored against Finland and Liechtenstein after striking twice for Juventus early in the month in a 4-1 win over Udinese. Kean is the youngest player to score eight Serie A goals since Mario Balotelli accomplished the feat at the age of 18.
Juventus missed injured forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
A blunder by Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gifted Sampdoria a goal in a 1-0 defeat which could upset the Rossoneri’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
In the opening minute, Donnarumma passed straight to Sampdoria forward Gregoire Defrel who inflicted Milan’s second successive defeat after losing the derby to Inter before the international break.