By James Whelan
With the Chrismas clasico just a few weeks away, Barcelona and Real Madrid put on impressive weekend displays at the top of La Liga.
Lionel Messi scored the 53rd hat-trick of his astonishing career to help Barcelona crush Mallorca 5-2 at the Nou Camp to retain their place at the top of LaLiga.
Following Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory over Espanyol earlier in the day to temporarily move top, the pressure was again on Barca to provide a response and they did so in emphatic fashion, with the mercurial Messi again at its heart.
Antoine Griezmann set the ball rolling after six minutes and with almost route one football after Dani Rodriguez had missed a sitter from six yards.
From the ensuing goal-kick, Marc-Andre ter Stegen launched the ball upfield for Griezmann to then embark on a stunning run from the halfway line before chipping the ball over goalkeeper Manolo Reina. Griezmann then set up a goal 10 minutes later, but the finish was all Messi’s, who had showed off his sixth Ballon d’Or to the fans before kick-off, as he curled beyond Reina from 25 yards.
Although Barca then threatened a third, it was Mallorca who gave themselves a lifeline in the 35th minute when Ante Budimir’s shot took a slight deflection off Clement Lenglet beyond ter Stegen.
Barcelona, though, finished the first half with a flourish, with Messi again beating Reina from outside the area with another sublime curler six minutes later to restore the two-goal cushion.
Two minutes before the break, Barcelona made it 4-1 courtesy of an outrageous goal from Luis Suarez as, with his back to goal he somehow delivered a backheel chip over Reina from Frenkie de Jong’s pass.
Mallorca at least came out fighting after the break, with Budimir heading home his and his side’s second of the night in the 64th minute to cut the deficit to two.
But it was left to that man Messi to have the final say, smashing home a drive in the 83rd minute for his 35th La Liga hat-trick to move ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s tally.
Barcelona face Dortmund tomorrow night with their Champions League progress already secure, before travelling to Real Sociedad next Saturday before hosting Real Madrid on December 18.
Madrid host Brugge on Wednesday with Euro qualification assured before a tough trip to Valencia is followed by the clasico.
Centre-back Raphael Varane and striker Karim Benzema were on target in Real’s 2-0 win over Espanyol. Real were without injured wingers Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard, so Zidane started teenage duo Vinicius and Rodrygo together for the first time.
Vinicius impressed throughout with his pace and trickery down the left, but he missed a number of chances and has managed to score just once this season.
Real boss Zidane, quoted by Marca, said: “The important thing is his work. What he has done he has done well, both in attack and defence.
“The important thing is to score one and then get into some rhythm. These are things that come with confidence. I do not ask anyone for goals. That is a consequence of what the team does. Today it was Varane’s turn, for example.”
In Germany, Bayern Munich’s seven-year reign as Bundesliga champions is under severe threat following a 2-1 defeat at league leaders Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Bayern grabbed a 49th-minute lead through Ivan Perisic at the Gladbach Arena, the hosts snatched victory with a double from Ramy Bensabaini, including an added-time penalty for a foul on Marcus Thuram by Javi Martinez, who was also sent off.
The visitors, who have now lost back-to-back league games for the first time since May 2015, have dropped to seventh, seven points adrift of Gladbach, who remain a point clear of RB Leipzig after their 3-1 home win over Hoffenheim, helped by a Timo Werner brace to take his tally to 20 for the season. Dortmund went third with a 5-0 thumping of Fortuna Dusseldorf.
In Italy, Lazio came from behind to beat Juventus 3-1 on Saturday and hand the Turin side their first defeat of the season, scoring the two decisive goals in the final 20 minutes after their opponents had Juan Cuadrado controversially sent off.
Juve, who had gone their first 19 games under new coach Maurizio Sarri unbeaten in all competitions, went ahead with a Cristiano Ronaldo goal in the 25th minute but Luiz Felipe levelled for Lazio in first-half stoppage time. The game turned in the 69th minute when Juve right back Cuadrado clattered into Manuel Lazzari and the referee dismissed the Colombian after viewing the incident on the pitchside monitor.
Five minutes later, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic latched on to Luis Alberto’s cross to put Lazio in front. Ciro Immobile had a penalty saved before sub Felipe Caicedo scored a third goal in stoppage time.
Juventus stayed second, two points behind Inter Milan, who drew 0-0 with Roma on Friday night, while Lazio in third are five points behind Inter.