Messi scores as Barca beat Deportivo BARCELONA: Lionel Messi took just touches of the ball to score on his return from injury as Barcelona thrashed Deportivo la Coruna 4-0 on Saturday, showing that he is ready to take on his former coach Pep Guardiola in the Champions League.
But Barca remain two points adrift of free-scoring Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid in La Liga.
Yannick Carrasco’s hat-trick and Nicolas Gaitan’s first two goals for Atletico inspired a storming fightback by Diego Simeone’s men to flatten Granada 7-1 after falling behind early on.
Real kept pace with their city rivals, bouncing back from a four-game winless streak in emphatic fashion by hammering Real Betis 6-1 away from home.
Sevilla left it late to win 3-2 at Leganes to stay third and a point ahead of fourth-placed Barca, claiming their first away win since May 2015.
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 with Barca already 3-0 up thanks to Luis Suarez and a double from Rafinha.
Barca’s convincing win comes shortly before former 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.
“I haven’t spoken to Pep,” Luis Enrique said. “[But] City will be a very attractive rival. It’s a team in continuous progression, and even more so now with its coach.”
Brazilian midfielder Rafinha put Barca ahead in the 21st minute with the help of lax goalkeeping from Deportivo’s German Lux and slid in the second goal in the 36th after the stopper failed to hold Gerard Pique’s header.
Suarez moved level with Antoine Griezmann as La Liga’s top scorer with six this season when he brilliantly turned away from the Deportivo defence when receiving Neymar’s through ball before slotting home two minutes before the break.
Messi was introduced from the bench just before the hour mark and took just three touches to find the net when he flicked another Neymar assist over the helpless Lux.
Real had dropped down to fourth due to results earlier in the day, but roared back to a share of the lead and put a poor run behind them with their best display of the season to blow Betis away.
“When we play with the intensity required it makes it very difficult for the opponent,” said a relieved Real boss Zinedine Zidane “I’m very happy, after four draws we needed a performance like this.”
Real rolled from the start at Benito Villamarin Stadium, with Raphael Varane heading home Toni Kroos’s floated free kick in the fourth minute.
Karim Benzema rolled home another pass by Kroos in the 31st to put Real further at ease and they went into the halftime break four goals up after Marcelo’s mishit effort found the far corner and a brilliant breakaway finished off by Isco.
Isco curled in a beautiful second strike in the 62nd after Alvaro Cejudo pulled one back for Betis before Cristiano Ronaldo got his name on the scoresheet 12 minutes from time.
Real still trail Atletico on goal difference as Los Rojiblancos went one better in smashing seven past Granada.
Former Barcelona forward Isaac Cuenca gave winless Granada a shock lead in the 18th minute with an impressive strike but Carrasco pulled Atletico in front with goals in the 34th and 45th, completing his treble in the 61st.
“I’m very happy to score three goals, it is the first hat-trick of my career,” added Carrasco. “I already have many happy memories here at Atletico and hopefully I have many more to come.”
Gaitan scored his first goal for Atletico two minutes after coming off the bench, netting with his first touch, and struck again in the 81st, while late strikes from Angel Correa and midfielder Tiago completed the demolition of bottom-side Granada in the demoralising debut of coach Lucas Alcaraz.