• Valverde hails Lionel Messi after record-equalling hat-trick

    Barcelona's Lionel Messi

    Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde praised the perfect display of Lionel Messi after his treble, including two superb free-kicks, helped beat Celta Vigo 4-1 and put the team back top of La Liga.

    Real Madrid’s convincing 4-0 win at Eibar earlier on Saturday had kept up the pressure.

    Messi gave Barca an early lead from the penalty spot, only for Celta, in their first match under new boss Oscar Garcia, to equalise through Lucas Olaza’s free-kick.

    The Argentina playmaker, though, then produced a trademark free-kick of his own to put Barca back in front heading into half-time.

    Messi completed his treble – matching the record of Cristiano Ronaldo of 34 in LaLiga – when he clipped in another impeccably executed deadball strike soon after the restart.

    Sergio Busquets, on as a first-half substitute, crashed in a late fourth as Barcelona moved back top above Real Madrid on goal difference.

    “With Leo, anything is possible,” Valverde said. “This (taking free-kicks) is something that he has mastered to perfection.

    “Because of this, the opponent can’t commit fouls on the edge of their own box. If they do, we try to take advantage.

    “Messi, apart from scoring goals, has a commitment to the game.”

    Barcelona had suffered an unexpected 3-1 defeat at Levante last weekend, and were then held to a goalless home draw by Slavia Prague in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

    “After losing, it’s nice to win. Even more so in a team like ours,” Valverde said in quotes reported by Marca.

    “We had a damaging defeat the other day and we needed a win tonight.

    “It was really difficult for us in the first half, with their high press that made it hard for us to play out and we didn’t have much rhythm in our play.”

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