Lionel Messi got a somewhat cheap (by his standards) hat-trick against Rayo Vallecano at the Nou Camp today, but they all count the same, and it hands him a major milestone.
The four-time Ballon d’Or winner became the proud owner of the most triples in La Liga history, passing Cristiano Ronaldo with 24. He also passes Athletic Bilbao legend Zarra with 32 for the most for a Spanish club in all competitions. Finally, he becomes the first player in Spanish soccer history to have 40 or more goals in six consecutive seasons.
Barcelona also moved into the league lead, making Real Madrid pay for their loss to Bilbao over the weekend and moving a point above Los Blancos. Messi’s three goals today were scored just 12 minutes apart, a stellar mark, but looking at the goals, he’s had better. Harsh, I know.
With the score just 1-0 to Barcelona at halftime despite plenty of opportunities for Luis Suarez, the floodgates opened early in the second half when Rayo defender Tito was sent with his second yellow card for a foul in the penalty area. It sent Messi to the penalty spot, and his initial effort was saved Cristian Alvarez, but the referee awarded a re-take, and Messi buried the additional effort.
His second came seven minutes later when a Suarez turn-and-shoot was saved by Alvarez. The Rayo goalkeeper should have held on to the weak attempt, but somehow it squirted out of his hands right to Messi who scored the easiest goal of his life. Finally, he picked up his hat-trick with an impressive effort, doing what Messi does by splitting two defenders with a scything run into the box and skipping past a helpless Alvarez before finishing into the net from a tight angle.
When it was all said and done, Barcelona demolished 10-man Rayo Vallecano 6-1, with Suarez picking up a pair and Pedro adding a goal as well. Messi’s best moment of the day may have been an assist, as he brilliantly picked out a Suarez run for the game’s final goal. For kicks, his final stats: 90% pass completion (38/42), 3/5 take-ons, 1/1 tackle. He now has 30 goals on the league season, tied with Ronaldo.
Messi, Suarez, and Neymar have a shot at becoming one of the best Barcelona strike trios in history. Messi partnered with Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o in the 2008/09 season to rack up 100 goals in all competitions between the three of them. This year’s strike force have hit for 80 goals, and there are still 19 potential matches left for Barcelona.