Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both scored twice to lead Barcelona and Real Madrid to comfortable wins in the Spanish league on Saturday.
While Luis Suarez netted a hat trick for Barcelona, Messi scored two superb goals to help beat Girona 6-1 and set a new club record of 32 consecutive Liga matches without a loss. That was one more than the streak in 2010-11 under Pep Guardiola.
Besides Ronaldo’s double, Madrid also got goals from Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema to beat Alaves 4-0 and remain a distant third, 14 points adrift of Barcelona.
Barcelona leads second-place Atletico Madrid by 10 points before the latter faces a tough trip to Sevilla on Sunday.
MESSI MASTER CLASS
Messi set up Suarez’s first goal to cancel out the early opener by Girona’s Cristian “Portu” Portuguese.
Messi then danced around two defenders inside the box to give Barcelona the lead on the half-hour mark. Two defenders seemed to have boxed him in as he tried to get by going to his right, so Messi quickly changed direction and sped around both until he opened up a slot to fire in his first goal.
He added another goal six minutes later with a superbly struck free kick that he sent low under the players in the defensive barrier when they jumped, anticipating he would try to shoot overhead.
“Leo is a great player. He fooled everyone with the goal he scored,” said Phillipe Coutinho, who scored his first league goal since joining Barcelona from Liverpool last month.
Coutinho had his moment to shine after Suarez’s second goal when he curled home a brilliant strike from outside the area to make it 5-1 in the 66th. Suarez completed his treble 10 minutes later when he tapped in a cross by Ousmane Dembele.
Messi took his league-leading tally to 22 goals, with Suarez next at 20.
Girona fell into ninth place. The Catalan club has impressed in its debut season in the first division, having lost only once in the six games prior to Saturday.
While nobody doubts the importance of Ronaldo for Madrid, both Benzema and Bale have disappointed this season. That has led to calls for others like Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Marco Asensio to take their place.
But coach Zinedine Zidane has stuck by Benzema and Bale in an unpredictable season.
The trio, supported by the incisive play of Lucas Vazquez, made the difference against an Alaves side that had been playing well over the last two months under new coach Abelardo Fernandez.
Benzema’s pass with his heel set up Ronaldo to drive in his first goal in the 44th. The French striker then stole the ball and laid off for Bale to make it 2-0 in the first minute of the second half.
Vazquez passed for Ronaldo to fire in his second goal in the 61st before Bale earned a penalty in the 89th that Benzema converted.
When asked if this meant that the trio of Ronaldo-Bale-Benzema was back to playing at its best, Zidane replied that it had never been missing.
“The only thing we want is that they feel they are playing at 100 percent,” Zidane said. “They have played a good match, as did Lucas (Vazquez). The four in attack played very well.”
CELTA’S SCORING DUO
Iago Aspas and Maxi Gomez continued their strong scoring runs to give Celta Vigo a 2-0 victory at home over Eibar.
The goals were Aspas’ 16th and Gomez’s 13th in the league. Only Messi and Suarez have outscored them.
Relegation-threatened Las Palmas scraped a point from drawing with Leganes 0-0 to inch its way toward safety.
Even so, coach Paco Jemez said he was not happy with the effort.
“We will go down to the second division playing like this,” Jemez said.