Barcelona: FC Barcelona got a hat-trick from Lionel Messi and another goal from Neymar in a 4-0 victory here Saturday over Granada that put the Catalan football club back on top of the La Liga standings.
The victory over lowly Granada was a respite from Barcelona’s series of matches this month with Espanyol, which held its crosstown rival to a 0-0 draw last weekend before succumbing 4-1 in a heated Copa del Rey battle Wednesday at Camp Nou stadium, reports Efe.
The second leg of that round-of-16 matchup will be played on January 13 at Cornella-El Prat Stadium.
On Saturday, Granada lacked the conviction needed to pose a threat and let the defending La Liga champions freely execute their short passing game from the opening whistle.
Allowing Barcelona to get comfortable at Camp Nou proved disastrous for the visitors, with Messi opening the scoring just seven minutes in after receiving a pass from Turkish midfielder Arda Turan.
Seven minutes later, the host side doubled its lead when Luis Suarez set Messi up just in front of the Granada goal, which net minder Andres Fernandez had left unprotected.
Barcelona had the match well in hand at the break even though the hosts squandered numerous other chances to score over the first 45 minutes.
Granada was more energized offensively in the second half but allowed Messi to score his third goal in the 58th minute on a play set up by Neymar, whose shot at close range deflected off Fernandez and the goalpost and set up his teammate for a routine strike.
Barcelona added one more goal before the final whistle, when Neymar received a pass from Suarez and calmly fired it into the roof of the goal with seven minutes remaining.
Afterward, Barça head coach Luis Enrique referred to his decision to change his line-up and sit regular starters like Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets against Granada.
“We start to have more options. Maybe it’s worse for the player because he’ll have to play less, but for the coach it’s better because I have more solutions. The key is to get to the end of the season in the best condition,” he said.
With the win, Barça moved one point ahead of Atletico Madrid, which can reclaim first place in the standings with a victory Sunday over Celta Vigo.