Three touches of the ball were all Lionel Messi needed to score for Barcelona on Saturday, showing he is ready to take on his former coach Pep Guardiola in the Champions League.
Messi displayed no signs of rust after more than three weeks out of action with a right groin strain and scored inside of four minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute. The Argentine added to Barcelona’s 4-0 rout of Deportivo La Coruna, firing in a well-placed pass by Neymar in the Spanish league match.
The convincing win comes shortly before former Barcelona coach Guardiola comes home to Camp Nou at the helm of new club Manchester City for a highly anticipated Champions League clash on Wednesday.
Rafina put Barcelona in control with a brace of goals after Neymar, who excelled as Barcelona’s playmaker, hit the crossbar early. The Brazilian midfielder won possession of the ball near Deportivo’s area before opening the score in the 21st.
Rafina finished off a rebound to double the hosts’ lead in the 36th.
Luis Suarez tied Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann as the league’s leading scorer — with six goals — just before halftime. Neymar also set up Suarez for his goal with a threaded pass into the area.
Messi went on in the 55th to play for the first time since Sept. 21. He scored on his third touch of the ball in the 58th after replacing Sergio Busquets.
“Messi is the best player in the world, it’s as simple as that,” Rafina said. “(With Messi) we create spaces and score goals.”
Deportivo, which had earned draws in its last two league visits to Camp Nou, lost Laureano “Laure” Sanabria to a direct red card for elbowing Neymar in the face in the 65th.
While most of Barcelona’s players enjoyed the easy win, there were two who did not.
Paco Alcacer’s search for his first goal with the defending champions continued after he missed several chances as a late substitute. Aleix Vidal didn’t even play after coach Luis Enrique left him off the squad.
LEGANES 2, SEVILLA 3
It took 511 days and 23 matches but Sevilla finally ended its winless streak away from home in the Spanish league.
Pablo Sarabia curled the ball just inside the post to secure Sevilla’s 3-2 win at Leganes with five minutes remaining.
The win lifted Sevilla to the top of the standings, followed by Barcelona. Atletico and Real Madrid can pass both sides with wins later on Saturday.
Sevilla’s Luciano Vietto passed for Franco Vazquez and Samir Nasri to score before Leganes rallied with two goals by David Timor and Alexander Szymanowski in the second half.
“Today we got a load off our shoulders,” Vazquez said. “We won away from home and can stay at the top of the table.”
Sevilla’s previous away win in the league was a 3-2 win at Malaga in May 2015.