Lionel Messi hit two sublime free kicks, one each half, that ensured Barcelona would defeat hosts Espanyol 4-0 and grab sole possession of the top spot on the La Liga table.
Curling a shot to either top corner Messi played another great game, reminiscent of his earlier UEFA Champions League performance against Tottenham Hotspur and seemingly making a statement after being relegated to fifth spot on the Ballon d’Or balloting this year.
Messi’s response has been to up his game, if that is possible, and to become the top scorer in La Liga with 11 goals and its top assist man with eight. If goal-scoring-opportunity passes were more readily accounted for Messi’s chances created would be through the roof.
Barca, at 31 points is three ahead of both Sevilla and Atletico Madrid at 28 points and Real Madrid at 26. Newly promoted Valladolid is in 12th place and Girona is in ninth.
Among the 15th Round’s highlights were Valencia and Sevilla drawing at 1-1, Real Madrid barely beating the last-placed team on the table, Huesca, via an early Gareth Bale goal, and Eibar and Levante fighting out a 4-4 draw. But the biggest match of the round ended up being played at Atletico Madrid where visiting Alaves were beaten 3-0.
The match was hard fought and even handed until the 25th minute when Nicola Kalinic propelled the ball in from a good cross. Only the ball went off his stomach and thigh for the close in score that seemed to come against the run of play. The rest of the match was played evenly again and it often seemed more likely Alaves would get a draw than that Atletico would pull another goal ahead.
But in the 82nd minute Antoine Griezmann broke away and shot past the onrushing Alaves goalkeeper only to have the ball bounce off the post and right back into the Atletico player’s path for a tap in from an acute angle with his weaker right foot. Two lucky goals and an unearned lead.
At the 87th minute Rodri found himself all alone, inside the goalkeeper’s box, and the recipient of a ricochet from a save off a close range shot the Alaves keeper just parried away. The volley-tap-in settled the score. Three lucky goals at home and the win for Atleti.
With the UEFA Champions League matches coming up today and tomorrow, look for Barcelona to rest Lionel Messi, as the team has already clinched first place in its group. PSG, Liverpool and Napoli seem among the teams with something left to prove to advance.