Sublime Messi bags hat-trick as Barca keep heat on Real
Lionel Messi scored a sublime hat-trick in Barcelona's 4-1 win at Malaga yesterday to keep pace with Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. A rare header was followed by two wonderful solo goals, continuing the form that recently won him the Ballon D'Or for the third successive year.
The Argentinian World Player of the Year leaped to nod Adriano's floated cross into the bottom corner in the 33rd minute at the Rosaleda before Alexis Sanchez made it 2-0 three minutes into the second half.
Any lingering Malaga hopes were snuffed out three minutes later when Messi slotted his second, a trademark run and finish that left the home defence in disarray.
Messi again left his hapless markers trailing to complete his hat-trick in the 82nd minute before substitute Salomon Rondon scored a consolation for the home side five minutes from time.
Title rivals Real Madrid overcame an early shock to beat Bilbao 4-1 at the Bernabeu.
The visitors took a 13th minute lead but Marcelo equalised seven minutes later. Cristiano Ronaldo converted two second-half penalties before Jose Maria Callejon completed the scoring five minutes from time.
In Italy, AC Milan took their time but eventually eased past Novara 3-0 to stay on the tail of leaders Juventus in Serie A yesterday while third-placed Udinese also won, beating Catania 2-1.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke the deadlock for the champions 12 minutes into the second period before Robinho doubled the advantage and Swede Ibrahimovic rounded off the scoring late on.
Juve confirmed themselves as serious challengers at the halfway mark of the season with a 2-0 win at Atalanta on Saturday but Milan remain just a point behind. Inter Milan beat Lazio 2-1 with goals by Diego Milito and Giampaolo Pazzini, with Tommaso Rocchi replying for the Roman club.
In Germany, Borussia Dortmund joined Bayern Munich and Schalke at the top of the Bundesliga after a 5-1 victory at Hamburg with two goals each for Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski.
With Bayern losing on Friday, Schalke also capitalised with a 3-1 victory over Stuttgart but were dealt a blow with the news that their captain, Benedict Howedes, will undergo facial surgery after fracturing his cheekbone. He will be out of action for up to six weeks.
Meanwhile, Steve McClaren has called the transition back into management "smooth and easy" after guiding FC Twente to a 5-0 win over Waalwijk in his first game back at the Dutch club.
At the Africa Cup of Nations, Chelsea's Didier Drogba scored the only goal of the game as tournament favourites Ivory Coast struggled to see off Sudan. Elsewhere, Angola defeated Burkino Faso 2-1.