'Best in the world' Messi nets his 50th hat-trick

SEVILLE • While other teams "have decisive players, we have the best in the world".

Lionel Messi left the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan pitch with the praise of Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde ringing in his ears after notching his 50th career hat-trick to give the Catalan giants a commanding lead at the top of LaLiga.

The Argentina forward was the inspiration behind their 4-2 comeback win at Sevilla on Saturday after the Spanish champions had twice fallen behind to strikes from Jesus Navas and Gabriel Mercado.

Messi, who has struggled for form in recent weeks owing to a niggling injury, made a mockery of Sevilla's fine home record this term - they had beaten Real Madrid 3-0 in the league and Barcelona 2-0 in the first leg of their King's Cup quarter-final tie last month.

"He is decisive and superlative," said Valverde, whose side added a fourth in stoppage time through Luis Suarez. "It's not just his goals... he always delivers in the right place at the right time."

Ousmane Dembele giving Lionel Messi a lift after the Argentinian ace equalised for Barcelona for the second time at Sevilla on Saturday. The Catalans won 4-2 and topped the standings by 10 points before last night's games.
Ousmane Dembele giving Lionel Messi a lift after the Argentinian ace equalised for Barcelona for the second time at Sevilla on Saturday. The Catalans won 4-2 and topped the standings by 10 points before last night's games. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pablo Machin's men are among Messi's favourite opponents - last year, he came off the bench to score twice in two minutes and rescue a 2-2 draw from 2-0 down.

The 31-year-old went one better this time and has now scored 36 times in 37 games against the Andalusian outfit, but the Barcelona talisman claimed that it "was always tough to win here".

He told reporters: "We know what it is like to come to this stadium and how good Sevilla's players are, they made things very hard for us by taking the lead, but we knew how to overcome all that."

Sevilla coach Machin admitted to sports website tribuna.com that his side simply had no answer to "the best player in the world, who has got our number and seems to have taken a special liking to us".

Barcelona led LaLiga by 10 points ahead of last night's matches.

It was Messi's 44th hat-trick for the club, with 32 coming in LaLiga, eight in the Champions League, three in the King's Cup and one in the Spanish Super Cup, while he has also nabbed six trebles for his country.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2019, with the headline ''Best in the world' Messi nets his 50th hat-trick'. Print Edition | Subscribe