La Liga

Pep: Messi makes the difference

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Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola believes his side could not have won 16 Primera Division games in a row without Lionel Messi.

Messi produced another breathtaking performance and scored a hat-trick as Barca beat Atletico Madrid 3-0 at the Nou Camp.

That victory saw Pep Guardiola's side break the record of 15 league wins in a row set by the great Real Madrid side of the 1960s.

The star of that side was Alfredo di Stefano and Guardiola says every team needs a great player.

"We wouldn't be what we are without Messi," he said after watching his side break Madrid's long-standing record, which was set in 1961.

"Without him we would be a good team, but he makes the difference.

"All of the great teams in history have a player who is different and Messi is one of those - he makes the difference."

And Guardiola believes the comparison with Di Stefano is an honour for his young star.

"I never saw Di Stefano play," he said.

"But the people I have spoken to that have seen him play say he was a wonderful footballer. It's a great honour that people compare Messi with Di Stefano."

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores believes Messi is the Di Stefano of the 21st Century.

"He is the number one," he said.

"He plays how he wants to and where he wants to - I haven't seen anything like it.

"He is the Di Stefano of the 21st Century."

Although his goals and the club's new record will undoubtedly grab the headlines, Messi showed another side of his game when he tracked back deep into his own half to tackle Atletico's Sergio Aguero and avert a potentially dangerous attack before impudently flicking the ball and move away from danger.

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"Out of everything he did tonight, what most impressed me was the tackle he made in front of the benches, when he ran back and won the ball," Sanchez Flores said.

"He even does that; he has everything."

Messi himself said he was proud to break the record of his countryman Di Stefano.

"It's an honour to break the mark set by someone as great as Di Stefano," he told LaSexta.

"The record has been there for a long time and that shows how complicated it is to break it."

Messi's hat-trick saw him overtake Cristiano Ronaldo in the league's scoring charts, bringing his season's total to 24 in the Primera Division.

"It's what least concerns me," he said.

"The important thing is to keep our run going and keep working hard because Madrid will always be close."

However, Barca are now provisionally 10 points clear of Jose Mourinho's side, who face Real Sociedad tomorrow at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The two sides also go head to head in the final of the Copa del Rey in April, but Messi says Barca are focused on the here and now.

"That's a long way away," he said.

"At the moment we are concentrating on the league and then comes the Champions League. When the time comes, we will talk about the final."

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