Wednesday 21 February 2018

Leo Messi hits the 30-goal mark for eighth successive season as Barca equal league record

Lionel Messi scores from a free kick against Seville
Lionel Messi scores from a free kick against Seville

Sean Gibson

Lionel Messi scored a direct free-kick to help Barcelona to a 2-1 over Sevilla, extending the club's unbeaten run to 34 games and getting the Argentine to the 30-goal mark for the eighth consecutive season.

The Catalan side's streak is now the equal-longest in history for a La Liga side in all competitions, alongside a Real Madrid sequence in 1988-89.

Barca had to do it the hard way, though, coming from behind at home against Sevilla to eventually win 2-1.

Messi equalised with a whipped, bending free-kick - his sixth of the season, more than any other player - before setting up Gerard Pique for the winner.

That set-piece stat adds a particularly barbed insult to injury for Cristiano Ronaldo, whose own assumed free-kick brilliance has come into question in recent times.

Ronaldo's Real Madrid side lost the Madrid derby to rivals Atletico at the weekend and, although it was new boss Zinedine Zidane's first defeat in charge, the combination of results sees Los Blancos slip a startling 12 points adrift of Barcelona at the La Liga summit in third.

Atletico are now Barca's nearest rivals for the title as Antoine Griezmann helped Diego Simeone's side to a 1-0 victory at the Bernabeu.

The result makes Atletico the first-ever visiting side to beat Real on their own patch in three consecutive seasons - another grim statistic in a domestic campaign that is fast unravelling.

Though it were hardly necessary to underscore Real's plight, Cristiano Ronaldo could not resist making post-match comments naming teammates who he appeared to say were not good enough to help Real Madrid win.

"If everybody was at my level, we’d be top," the Portuguese told the press.

Ronaldo cut a disillusioned figure under previous coach Rafael Benitez, but a change at the top has thus far improved neither his mood nor Real's chances of success.

Following their ignominious exclusion from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player against Cadiz, Real's only realistic trophy hope is now the Champions League - a competition in which both their domestic tormentors, Atleti and Barca, are still very much involved.

Barcelona, meanwhile, go from strength to strength, appearing utterly unassailable on every stage they grace.

Not only are the Catalans eight points clear atop La Liga, they are sitting pretty in the Champions League after last week's effective smash-and-grab away win against Arsenal. In the Copa del Rey, Barca recently secured their spot in the final with a whopping 8-1 aggregate victory over Gary Neville's Valenica side.

Neville's fears for his job may have subsided given Valencia's recent upturn in form, but his nerves will likely be in no better shape after a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Athletic Bilbao this weekend prompted him to call the referee's performance "a joke".

The two sides have been drawn against one another in the last 16 of the Europa League and head coach Neville will hope his side got all their bad luck and poor play out of their system in this league game, the defeat leaving them firmly stuck in the mid-table mud.

The former Manchester United full-back was incensed by the denial of two Valencia penalty claims during the game.

Speaking post-match, Neville said: "I've not blamed refs in every game, but his management of the game was awful. Some of the things he did were incredible."

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