BARCELONA: Lionel Messi matched Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo with a hat-trick this weekend as Barcelona returned to second in La Liga with victory over Espanyol.
The 27-year-old struck either side of half-time with two typically well-taken finishes to put his side ahead after Sergio Garcia’s solo goal had given the visitors a surprise early lead.
After Messi’s second, Barca took charge with Gerard Pique heading their third. Pedro scored a fourth before Messi had the last word by completing the rout.
Messi’s three goals – the first a pinpoint finish from the edge of the box, the second a side-foot strike after he had controlled Luis Suarez’s pass and the third a tap-in following a one-two with Pedro – took him to 256 goals in La Liga in 291 appearances.
They also took him past the 200 goal mark in Spain’s top flight since the 2009 arrival at Real Madrid of Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored his own 200th goal as part of a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday night.
Ronaldo’s treble was a record 23rd in La Liga, but Messi is not far behind, having now notched up his 21st in the competition.
Ronaldo still leads the goalscoring charts for this season with 29 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions (and a stunning 23 in 13 in la Liga), with Messi having now scored 20 in 19 games this campaign, 13 of which have come in the league.
Barca were once again indebted to their Argentine forward for turning the game around after Garcia had charged forward to slot Espanyol into a 13th-minute lead and give them hope of a famous victory at the home of their local rivals.
However, having claimed the lead, Barca kicked on and Pique’s header from a corner and substitute Pedro’s drilled finish from Jordi Alba’s pass swung the game decisively in their favour before Messi added the gloss.
Real’s win (their Spanish record-equalling 18th in succession in all competitions) took them five points clear of their great rivals overnight.
But Barca’s victory means the gap is now back to two points, with reigning champions Atletico Madrid two points behind.