Messi, poised for fifth World Player title, lifts Barca with a hat-trick

BARCELONA • Lionel Messi warmed up for his anticipated fifth World Player of the Year crown by scoring his first hat-trick of the season to lead Barcelona to a 4-0 Spanish Primera Liga win over Granada on Saturday.

Arda Turan set Messi up to score the opening goal from close range in the eighth minute at the Nou Camp.

Messi, who missed two months at the end of last year with a knee injury, made it 2-0 six minutes later from a clever Luis Suarez assist.

But despite dominating, Barcelona wasted several clear chances before half-time.

Granada saw more of the ball at the start of the second half before Messi completed his treble in the 58th minute after Neymar's shot came back off a post, ending his longest hat-trick drought in six years.

It was the Argentinian's 25th La Liga treble.

Neymar scored for his 18th goal of the season seven minutes from time when Messi, who was in an offside position, let the ball run through to the Brazilian and he lifted it over Granada goalkeeper Andres Fernandez into the roof of the net.

Despite the fine form of Neymar and Suarez in his two-month absence, Messi again demonstrated that he is Barca's main man as Luis Enrique's men bounced back from drawing three of their last four La Liga games.

Messi is expected to beat Neymar and holder Cristiano Ronaldo to the Ballon d'Or today after leading Barca to a second treble triumph of La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey in six years last season.

"I have never seen anyone like Leo Messi," Turan, who made his La Liga debut for the Spanish and European champions on Saturday after Barca's year-long ban from registering new players was lifted earlier in the week, told Turkish newspaper Sabah.

"He is a miracle from God. I like it when he does his things on the field.

"It's not jealousy - I feel good, for instance, when he nutmegs someone."

With Granada hovering just above the relegation zone, Barca coach Luis Enrique rested first- choice midfielders Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, centre-back Javier Mascherano and full-back Dani Alves. The Spaniard said he would continue to rotate his squad in the coming weeks.

"I make some changes now when I can and I have the chance to share out the burden," he told a news conference after his side surged to the top of the La Liga table.

"The key will be to get to the matches in a couple of months feeling fresh and that's why I have to ration (playing time)."

Atletico Madrid, a point behind Barca, could regain top spot with victory over Celta Vigo in yesterday's match.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Messi, poised for fifth World Player title, lifts Barca with a hat-trick'. Print Edition | Subscribe