Barcelona wins with Messi hat trick, Suarez backheel goal

(AP Photo/Joan Monfort)

By TALES AZZONI

AP Sports Writer

MADRID (AP) It was showtime for Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium.

Lionel Messi had a hat trick. Luis Suárez scored with a superb backheel goal. There was even an assist by goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen to Antoine Griezmann's first goal in six Spanish league matches.

With one of its best performances of the season, Barcelona cruised to a 5-2 win over promoted Mallorca on Saturday, keeping pace with Real Madrid and regaining the league lead.

Madrid had beaten Espanyol 2-0 earlier Saturday to provisionally move to the top, but Barcelona's win left the teams tied on points and the Catalan club ahead on goal difference.

The highlight of Barcelona's win was Suárez's 43rd-minute backheel goal, which came after a smart exchange of passes between Frenkie de Jong and Sergi Roberto. De Jong made the final pass to Suárez who was near the corner of the six-meter (yard) box, and the Uruguay striker hit the ball with the back of his right foot, pressing it down and making it bounce off the ground over goalkeeper Manolo Reina.

“I knew I had a difficult angle, my only option was to backheel the ball firmly so it would bounce and make it harder for the goalkeeper,” Suárez said. “It wouldn’t be impossible for the ball to go through if it didn’t bounce. Luckily it worked and it was a beautiful goal.”

Barcelona's dominant performance had started with Griezmann's seventh-minute goal off a long pass by Ter Stegen, who quickly took a goal kick to set up the Frenchman's run from behind the midfield line. Griezmann entered the area and niftly tapped the ball over Reina.

It was the second assist for Ter Stegen this season. He had also set up Suárez's goal against Getafe in September.

Messi was at his best, scoring in the 17th with a superb curling left-footed shot into the top corner and then with another well-placed strike from outside the area in the 41st. He completed his record 35th league hat trick from inside the area in the 83rd after Suárez's pass.

The goal also allowed Messi to take the league's scoring lead with 12 goals, one more than Real Madrid's Karim Benzema.

Before the match, Messi was presented with the Ballon d'Or award which he won for best player of the year on Monday. Messi's three young sons carried the trophy out to him as the Camp Nou crowd chanted his name.

Ante Budimir scored Mallorca's goals in the 35th and 64th minutes.

Barcelona has won nine of its last 10 league matches, including four in a row. It has lost only once in its last 14 games in all competitions.

It was the seventh consecutive away loss for Mallorca, which stayed in 17th place, one point from the relegation zone.

Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema scored a goal in each half to give Madrid its win over second-to-last-place Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

The result extended Madrid's unbeaten run in all competitions to nine matches. It was the team's fourth straight league win, and the 14th in the last 15 games against Espanyol across all competitions.

Varane opened the scoring with a low left-foot shot from inside the area in the 37th after a pass by Benzema, who sealed the victory with a shot from close range in the 79th after being set up by midfielder Federico Valverde.

Madrid played the final minutes with 10 men as left-back Ferland Mendy was sent off with a second yellow card for a hard foul in the 83rd.

Madrid played without several regular starters because of injuries, including Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, James Rodríguez and Marcelo.

It was a three-goal night for Levante striker Roger Martí, but only two counted for his team in a 4-2 loss to city rival Valencia.

Martí put the hosts ahead with a pair of goals by the 20th minute, but then netted an own-goal just before halftime while trying to clear a cross from inside the area. The ball hit his right knee and went backward into his own net.

Valencia came back with two goals in two minutes by Kevin Gameiro in second-half breakaways, one in the 57th and another in the 59th. Ferran Torres closed the scoring in the 88th to give Valencia its fourth win in its last five league games.

“It was a shame that own-goal just before the break,” Martí said. “It was an unlucky play.”

Levante played with 10 men after defender Eliseo Falcón was sent off with a second yellow card in the 74th.

Levante hasn't won the Valencia derby since 2016, having lost three of the last five.

The result left Valencia in seventh place and Levante stayed in 11th.

Promoted Granada ended a five-match winless streak with a 3-0 rout of Alavés, moving to eighth with 24 points.

Carlos Fernández, Roberto Soldado and Yangel Herrera scored second-half goals for Granada, which had lost four of its last five matches.

Alavés, sitting in 15th place, had two players sent off - Wakaso Mubarak in the 67th and Víctor Laguardia in stoppage time.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Updated December 7, 2019

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