Messi leads Barca to punishing win past lowly Granada
Lionel Messi scored twice in the first 15, then added another before the hour for a hat trick while his partners produced some splendid football as Barcelona moved top of La Liga Saturday afternoon with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over relegation-threatened Granada.
The three points pushed Barcelona a point ahead of Atletico Madrid, who play Sunday at Celta Vigo, and five clear of Real Madrid, home later on Saturday against Deportivo La Coruna. The leaders also have a match in hand because of their trip to the FIFA World Club Championship in late December.
Neymar added the final goal for the La Liga juggernaut on a day when their passing was often magical against a team whose main concern must be to remain in Spain's top flight. They remain 17th in the table, just two points above the drop zone.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique gave Thomas Vermaelen a rare start in central defense and league debuts to both of his key newcomers, defender Aleix Vidal, and attacking midfielder Arda Turan, both of whom had been kept on the sideline by FIFA's transfer ban on the Catalans. That expired with the arrival of the new year, and this is something that Luis Enrique is grateful for, "I have more chance to share out minutes and the key is to get to the end of the season in good shape."
Luis Suarez, provisionally suspended for two games for his role in an incident after Wednesday's Copa del Rey match against Espanyol, was in the starting XI as Barcelona has appealed against the ban.
Messi sent Jordi Alba in alone in the fourth minute, but the Barca back put his shot on the wrong side of the left post even as the pass fired the first warning shot across the Granada defense's bow. Four minutes later the first goal arrived, Messi again the supplier and this time also the finisher touching Arda's return pass as Suarez dummied effectively.
Messi's second, in the 14th minute. was an outstanding piece of passing, switching play from one side to the other, before a terrific finish. Neymar started the move on the top left of the box with a crossfield delivery to Suarez, whose first-time assist seemed to be going beyond Messi before the little Argentine star found an extra bit of pace and cut the ball into the open net from an acute angle.
Barcelona then squandered chances to make the game safe before the interval. It should have been three on 25 minutes when Suarez missed an open and could only fall to the ground laughing watching a sitter fly past the left post. The 1-2 between Suarez and Neymar certainly deserved better.
Five minutes later Andres came back across his goal quickly to deny Messi, put in for a point-blank shot by Vidal. Defender Mattheus Doria was next to foil Messi's bid for a third, producing a sliding tackle in the 39th minute to prevent a goal.
Messi's weaving run helped to create the fourth for Neymar, who roofed it at the left post from Suarez' pass with seven minutes remaining.