Messi returns in top scoring form
BARCELONA, Spain (AP):
Three touches of the ball were all Lionel Messi needed to score for Barcelona yesterday, showing that 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.
Barcelona's 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 European clash on Wednesday.
"We played a great game. This is the perfect way to arrive at the match against City," said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who calls Guardiola a friend.
It was a night of big wins for all the top teams in La Liga, as Atletico Madrid winger Yannick Carrasco scored a hat-trick to keep Diego Simeone's side at the top of the table by destroying Granada 7-1.
Real Madrid stayed second on goal difference to Atletico after outclassing Real Betis 6-1 to end their run of four consecutive draws. Sevilla ended their long wait for an away victory to remain a point behind in third, and a point ahead of fourth-placed Barcelona.
Rafinha put Barcelona in control with a brace of goals after Neymar, who excelled as Barcelona's playmaker, hit the crossbar early. The Brazil midfielder won possession of the ball near Deportivo's area before opening the score in the 21st and added a second in the 36th.
Luis Suarez tied Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann as the league's leading scorer - with six goals - just before half-time after Neymar threaded a pass into the area for the striker.
Messi went on in the 55th to play for the first time since September 21. He scored on his third touch of the ball in the 58th.
Deportivo, who had earned draws in their 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.