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Monday December 10 2012
Record Messi keeps Barca on track

Barcelona’s hard-fought win at Betis had more significance than just another Lionel Messi record, writes Kieran Canning.

It is not often the best centre-forward in the world can have one of the best nights of his career and still be left upstaged.

However, Radamel Falcao had barely finished his post-match Press commitments and boarded the team bus after scoring a remarkable five times in Atletico Madrid’s 6-0 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna when the storyline of a fantastic Sunday evening of Spanish football had altered from the Colombian’s feats to one even more extraordinary.

Lionel Messi had scored twice in nine first-half minutes against Real Betis in Seville to move on to 86 goals for the calendar year, surpassing Gerd Muller’s previous all-time record that had stood for 40 years.

In a fashion as typically Messi as the two left-footed arrows he slotted into the net, the Argentine’s first reaction was to say: “the most important thing was to win this match.” And although Messi’s record will be what history remembers from December 9, 2012, the match itself was another 90 minutes that confirmed the title is on its way back to Catalonia in 2013.

This was far from the flowing Barca that had destroyed Athletic Bilbao and Levante in the previous two weeks. After Messi’s early salvo they weren’t allowed to be, by a brave and aggressive Betis side who could count themselves grossly unfortunate not to take a point after hitting the woodwork three times in the second-half, but this was the type of game Barca didn’t win last season and Real Madrid did.

So far this campaign the roles have been reversed. Barcelona have now won at all three grounds where the champions have suffered defeats this season and the League leaders are yet to drop any points against anyone but Los Merengues.

Their 14th victory in 15 also came via their 50th League goal of the campaign, a rate even in excess of Madrid’s record breaking 121 last season, and with a combination of the greatest goalscoring machine in history and strength in depth that saw their bench last night consist of Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Song, Thiago Alcantara and David Villa, even injuries to Carles Puyol and Cesc Frabregas look incapable of destabilising Tito Vilanova’s troops’ unstoppable march to a 22nd league title.

Whilst Monday’s front pages hailed the ‘day of the beasts’ in awe of Messi and Falcao’s feats, Sunday’s were concerned with a ‘genius’. Mesut Ozil’s spectacular double on Saturday night prevented Real Madrid from dropping more points on the road, as they twice had to come from behind at Valladolid, with Manucho profiting from the team’s continued inability to defend from set-pieces.

It was a particularly sweet night for the German as he has often been Jose Mourinho’s fall guy when things haven’t gone to plan away from home this season, including being substituted at half-time in the defeats to Sevilla and Real Betis. However, he has looked back to his best in recent weeks and may even see more of the free-kick taking duties come his way after curling in his second fantastic effort in a matter of weeks from 25 yards to win the game 20 minutes from time.

However, whilst all the top three managed another win, things continue to go from bad to worse for those at the bottom. Espanyol failed to get their first win under Javier Aguirre as Alvaro Negredo snatched a point for Sevilla in stoppage time, despite the visitors having played for well nearly an hour with 10 men after Jose Antonio Reyes received one of the most ludicrous red cards you’ll ever see for taking a free-kick too quickly.

It was even worse for Granada, Deportivo and Mallorca, though, who lost by a combined score of 14-0 this weekend and for who managerial changes may not be too far away.

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