Whatever the Ballon d’Or may reckon, there is no one better than Lionel Messi and perhaps the Argentinian genius’ only drawback is that individual displays of brilliance as showed on Sunday are all too common place. Messi struck his 49th career hat-trick, took his tally for 2018 to 50 and added a couple of further assists as Barcelona thrashed Levante 5-0.
What for any ordinary player would be a performance that would highlight a career for Messi was just another Sunday in LaLiga and with the win Barça went back to the top of the table.
The scoreline doesn’t quite illustrate the problems that Levante posed in the opening stages and Emmanuel Boateng actually smashed a shot against the crossbar before Messi took control. Dancing across the penalty area away from three defenders, the captain deftly crossed the ball back into the centre and Luis Suarez volleyed in the opener.
1 – Lionel Messi is the first player to reach double figures for both goals (14) and assists (10) in the top five European leagues this season. Celestial. pic.twitter.com/CGebViSpXy
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 16, 2018
Soon after Messi dashed clear and slotted in Barcelona’s second and almost immediately after the break, a fine finish from the edge of the box made it three.
A simple close range tap-in completed Messi’s hat-trick and if being the first player to reach 50 goals in 2018 (a feat that the 31-year-old has sensationally managed in eight of the past nine seasons) wasn’t enough, aside from being the top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues this season, Messi added another assist for Gerard Pique to make it five – a tenth assist for the season, also the most in Europe’s top five leagues.
With the win Barcelona are three points clear of Sevilla at the top of the table after the Andalusians had earlier in the weekend defeated Girona.
Ever Banega broke the deadlock from the penalty spot after 55 minutes and Pablo Sarabia ensured victory. Argentina remain hopeful that Lionel Messi will return to the national team in 2019 but Banega, another of those not to have featured since the World Cup, could yet push for a recall.
For the time being, Banega’s place is taken by the impressive Giovani Lo Celso and despite missing a penalty in Real Betis’ win over Espanyol, the former Rosario Central playmaker still got on the scoresheet.
Lo Celso’s saved effort saw Espanyol take the lead soon after but unable to hold until the break, Betis forced an equaliser. Sergio Canales bursting down the left and his cut-back side footed into the net by Lo Celso.
A wonderful Cristian Tello free kick would put Betis in front and late on, Lo Celso burst through the Espanyol defence and the 22-year-old’s low cross was turned into his own net by Oscar Duarte. What has been Paris Saint-Germain’s loss has been Betis’ gain as Lo Celso has unquestionably been one of the signings of the season and fulfilling all the promise that was evident in those early days in Rosario.
In Serie A, Mauro Icardi was on target once again as Argentina’s number nine cooly chipped in a late penalty to hand Inter victory over Udinese.
Inter remain in third with the win and with Icardi scoring his ninth of the season, manager Luciano Spalletti hailed his captain the ‘perfect striker.’
Roma are in sixth and were made to work hard for victory against Genoa, twice coming from behind to seal a 3-2 win.
A goalkeeping error saw Roma behind early but Federico Fazio equalised with a smart finish at a free-kick swung into the penalty area. Genoa would restore their lead but goals by Justin Kluivert and Bryan Cristante won it for the home side.
Fiorentina were also forced to come from behind with Giovanni Simeone instrumental in overturning Empoli’s early lead.
Simeone’s perfectly weighted pass in behind allowed Kevin Miralles to equalise just before half time and on the hour mark, the 23-year-old nodded Fiorentina in front.