x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Messi leads the Barca way

Barcelona recorded their ninth consecutive league victory to move three points clear at the top of Spain's Primera Liga.

Lionel Messi, left, celebrates with teammates Thierry Henry, right, and Samuel Eto'o.
Lionel Messi, left, celebrates with teammates Thierry Henry, right, and Samuel Eto'o.

BARCELONA // Barcelona recorded their ninth consecutive league victory to move three points clear at the top of Spain's Primera Liga. The in-form Catalans took advantage of title rivals Real Madrid losing to Valladolid and Villarreal drawing 2-2 at Malaga to beat struggling Recreativo Huelva 2-0 away.

Lionel Messi, celebrating five years since his Barca debut as a 16-year-old, scored the first goal for Pep Guardiola's side, yet they had to wait until the 50th minute to break the deadlock. Awarded a free kick, midfielder Xavi tricked the home defence by playing a short ball to Messi, leaving the little Argentinian to score his seventh league goal of the season by smashing the ball past Asier Riesgo in the Recreativo net.

"Everyone was responsible for the goal," said Messi. "We're very happy with the result because it was difficult to overcome Recreativo." Aware of their limitations, Spain's oldest club adopted a well-organised defensive strategy to avoid a humiliating scoreline which Barca have recently inflicted on several opponents. The Catalans had scored four or more goals in five of their nine previous matches, hitting six against Atletico Madrid, Sporting Gijon and Valladolid.

Thierry Henry, looking far more comfortable in a Barca shirt than he did for much of last season, hit a shot against the bar as Barca went in search of a second goal, which they finally got in the 85th minute when Seydou Keita had an easy finish after Samuel Eto'o miss hit a shot. Eto'o still leads the top scorers' Pichichi chart with 13 league goals ahead of Valencia's David Villa, who has 11. Coach Guardiola, who was idolised as a player in Johan Cruyff's 'Dream Team' which won the 1992 European Cup, is only adding to his popularity in Catalonia. As sartorially smart as he is cerebral, Guardiola has a clear vision of how football should be played 'The Barca Way'. He talked down Barça's 14th consecutive victory in all competitions, saying: "I deserve no credit for the important Messi goal. It was an understanding between Xavi and Messi. It is one thing to prepare a move, but another to carry it out in a game like they did."

"We have to remain calm because nobody is crowned champion in November. It was an important victory in a very even game. We have a lead now in the league, but if we go to sleep we'll lose that insurance. We must stay focused." In Spain's other Sunday games, Athletic Bilbao recorded a much- needed win in the Basque derby, beating winless Osasuna 2-0. Sevilla won 2-0 at Getafe, who are Barcelona's next opponents. Diego Forlan scored twice as the inconsistent Atletico Madrid won 4-1 against Deportivo La Coruna. Betis beat Racing Santander 3-1 while Espanyol lost 3-4 at home to Numancia, who moved out of the relegation zone.

Mallorca, recently purchased by a British businessman Paul Davidson, lost 2-1 at Almeria, with Alvaro Negredo scoring twice. The Mallorcans lie in 15th and fans are yet to be convinced by their foreign owner after last season's impressive seventh place finish. @Email:amitten@thenational.ae