Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Lionel Messi says Barcelona back to their best as Ernesto Valverde shrugs off Real Madrid fixture complaints

Messi scored the 50th hat-trick of his career in 4-2 win over Sevilla on Saturday as Real Madrid manager Solari questions 'curious' decision to give Barca extra day's rest ahead of clasico double-header

Lionel Messi said Barcelona were back to their best following a mid-season slump after scoring a hat-trick in a rousing 4-2 win at Sevilla, while Ernesto Valverde poured cold water over Real Madrid's complaints over scheduling ahead of this week's clasico double-header.

Barca had won only one of five games in February as they kicked off at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday but after another landmark day for Messi, who scored the 50th hat-trick of his career, the Argentine pledged his side would now go all out for a treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Uefa Champions League trophies.

Having been held to a goalless draw at Lyon in their Champions League last-16 first leg on Tuesday, Barca looked set for another disappointing result when Jesus Navas gave Sevilla the lead.

Yet Messi responded with a stunning volley and although Gabriel Mercado put Sevilla in front again before half time, Barca's captain again hauled his team back into the game quite brilliantly.

His thumping strike from just inside the area saw Barca equalise midway through the second half before he put them ahead with an ice-cool dinked finish in the 85th minute and then laid on the pass for Luis Suarez to seal all three points.

"Today, we were ourselves again and we produced a great performance," Messi told reporters.

"We went through a spell where, to be honest, we did not play our best football so that made it much harder for us to score.

"You have different moments over a season, and we can't always play at the highest level. But when we manage to get the play to flow, things always happen for us."

Barca's inconsistent results have not harmed their bid to successfully defend the La Liga title and the thrilling win extended their lead at the top of the table to 10 points over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid.

The Spanish champions now face back-to-back trips to arch rivals Real Madrid, with a Copa del Rey semi-final second leg on Wednesday followed by a league visit back at the Bernabeu next Saturday.

"Now we have some very difficult games coming up and everything will get harder as the season draws to a close," Messi added.

"We won't give up in any competition. We are one step from reaching the cup final. That game is going to be very tough because it's against Madrid, in their stadium.

"But we will go out to win and believe we can. Then we will focus on the league game. We're going to try and win everything."

Santiago Solari had described as "curious" Barcelona having an extra day's rest before next week's Copa del Rey clash.

"We find it funny," Solari said at a press conference on Saturday ahead of Real's match away to Levante on Sunday. "It's curious. But playing in different conditions, it entertains us a lot and we see it as a challenge."

Madrid were also given one day fewer before the first leg earlier this month, which ended in a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou, but had an extra day ahead of the La Liga match before travelling to Barcelona in October, when Barca ran out 5-1 winners.

Barca manager Valverde shrugged off his Madrid counterparts complaints.

"Anyone can complain about the schedule, Sevilla too," said Valverde after Saturday's 4-2 win at Sevilla.

"Really, that sort of thing happens to Sevilla, Betis, Real, to us, to all the teams. If the match date falls like that, it's like that."

Updated: February 24, 2019 11:57 AM

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