Spain: Messi scores another hat trick, Barcelona buries Espanyol
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi scored a hat trick to reach the 400-goal mark for Barcelona and spark his team's 5-1 comeback victory over Espanyol in the Catalan capital derby on Sunday, keeping the winners second in the Spanish league.
Messi matched Cristiano Ronaldo's three-goal performance in Real Madrid's win the day before to ensure Barcelona stayed within two points of its fierce rivals at the top of the table. It was Messi's third hat trick in two weeks, having also netted three goals against Sevilla in the league and at APOEL in the Champions League.
Sergio Garcia put Espanyol in front in the 13th minute in a good first half for the visitors, but Messi curled home the equalizer in injury time before the break to change the flow of the game.
Messi fired in his second in the 50th and added a third after Gerard Pique and substitute Pedro Rodriguez had scored in a second half completely dominated by Barcelona.
"Messi is a football legend," said Espanyol coach Sergio Gonzalez. "We were the better side in the first half but Leo's goal was a tough blow. We couldn't forget it and 15 bad minutes cost us the game."
Already Barcelona's all-time top scorer, Messi's goals were his 400th, 401st and 402nd goals for the club, including friendlies. They took his league tally for this season to 13 goals, far behind Ronaldo's runaway total of 23.
Also on Sunday, Carlos Bacca scored early to help secure Sevilla's 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano as the Andalusian side tightened its hold on fourth place.
After a start to the season when Messi stood out for his playmaking, he is again scoring goals in bunches.
His scoring burst comes with Ronaldo also in spectacular form and both star forwards named as finalists along with Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for the Ballon d'Or award, which Ronaldo won last year. The winner will be announced on Jan. 12.
"Leo's first goal was the key," said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique. "I don't know if he and Cristiano feed off one another. Our interest is that he gives us all he can and is involved in every facet, scoring, assisting and even in defense."
Barcelona hosts Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday, with both teams already qualified for the knockout rounds.
Espanyol played its best 45 minutes of the season in the first half at Camp Nou, defending well and launching effective three effective counterattacks.
Felipe Caicedo's pressure led to Espanyol's goal when the striker stole the ball from Sergio Busquets in Barcelona's half. Garcia quickly dribbled forward and changed pace to lose Pique before firing under goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Barcelona turned to Messi to spark its comeback.
The Argentine earned a foul and bent a free kick that hit the crossbar on the half-hour mark before setting up Jordi Alba, only for goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to save.
Garcia and Victor Sanchez both squandered opportunities to extend Espanyol's lead before Messi broke through its disciplined defense. Messi received Xavi Hernandez's pass and used two quick touches before threading a left-footed shot through the crowd and just inside the upright.
He got his second after halftime when Barcelona was on the break. Neymar led the way before Suarez crossed for Messi, who poked the ball under defender Juan Fuentes and drilled it home with his right boot.
Pique quickly ended Espanyol's hopes in the 53rd by heading in Ivan Rakitic's corner kick.
Espanyol was then caught off balance when Pedro scored in the 77th before Messi worked a one-two with the forward to get his hat trick in the 81st.
Sevilla's Bacca took advantage of Cristian Alvarez's hesitation to head a lobbed pass over the goalkeeper and then used his feet to roll the ball into an empty net in the eighth minute at Vallecas Stadium.
Sevilla opened a five-point gap over Valencia in their fight for Spain's final Champions League spot before Valencia visited Granada later.
Rayo was left in 10th place ahead of Eibar in 11th and Espanyol in 12th.
Also later, Real Sociedad visited Villarreal.