MADRID: Lionel Messi added to his impressive start to the season by scoring four goals and helping Barcelona rout Eibar 6-1 to extend its perfect record in the Spanish league on Tuesday. Messi converted a penalty in the first half and scored three more goals in the second to give Barcelona its fifth straight victory in the league.
The Argentina playmaker took his tally to 12 goals in eight matches this season, including nine in the five league games. Messi had already scored a hat trick in Barcelona’s 5-0 rout of Espanyol in the Catalan derby two rounds ago.
The result gave Barcelona a five-point lead over Sevilla, which hosts Las Palmas today. Real Sociedad, six points back, is at Levante today. Defending champion Real Madrid, seven points behind Barcelona, hosts Real Betis. It has been a rather unexpectedly good start to the season for Barcelona, which began the league amid turmoil after seeing Neymar leave for Paris Saint-Germain and losing the Spanish Super Cup match to Real Madrid.
It is the best start to the league for Messi, who in 2011-12 had scored eight goals after five matches. He is the league’s leading scorer, with four goals more than Simone Zaza of Valencia, who had a hat trick in a 5-0 rout of Malaga earlier Tuesday.
“He is one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen on a field,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said of Messi. “You don’t really know how, but he is always in good position. He is extraordinary.” It was the fourth time Messi has scored four goals or more with Barcelona. Brazil midfielder Paulinho and Denis Suarez also scored for the Catalan club, while Sergi Enrich netted Eibar’s goal.
Barcelona was without Ousmane Dembele, who injured his left thigh at the weekend and is expected to be sidelined for up to four months. The young France forward, Barcelona’s top signing during the transfer window, traveled to Finland to undergo surgery on a ruptured tendon. He made only three appearances after arriving to replace Neymar.
Valverde left Luis Suarez on the bench and started with Gerard Deulofeu, Denis Suarez and Messi as a false “9” in the attack. Paulinho, the Brazil midfielder who came off the bench to score the winner against Getafe on Saturday, also made it to the starting lineup.
“Today we have been able to rest certain players and give playing time to others who needed to play and it turned out well,” Valverde said.
Valencia won 5-0 with a hat trick by Simone Zaza to hand Malaga its fifth straight loss to start the season. Zaza scored his three goals eight minutes apart early in the second half to give Valencia its first victory after three straight draws and move the club into third place. Forward Santi Mina and Rodrigo also scored for the hosts at Mestalla Stadium. – AP