They will barely have needed reminding, given the presence of Txiki Begiristain as Manchester City’s sporting director these days, but Lionel Messi proved he is in ominous form as the Argentine scored twice in Barcelona’s 6-0 destruction of Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
Those goals took Messi’s tally of La Liga goals to 208 – above Alfredo di Stefano and into joint third place on the all-time list alongside Raul – as Gerardo Martino’s side warmed up in style for Tuesday’s Champions League meeting with City by regaining their lead at the top of the table.
Begiristain famously offered Messi a new five-year contract with a £100m release clause on his 18th birthday in 2005 after seeing him named as the player of the Under-20 World Cup that summer – a decision that has since paid handsome dividends. Having returned from two months out with a hamstring injury at the start of last month, the 26-year-old has now scored five goals in his last three appearances to breathe new life into Barcelona’s title defence at just the right time.
Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last 25 matches in all competitions and went level on points with both Barça and Atletico Madrid yesterday after beating Getafe 3-0. Atletico face Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday having seen off Real Vallodolid on Saturday, but Barcelona’s display against struggling Rayo meant they have now scored 10 goals in their last two league fixtures.
Adriano opened the floodgates in the second minute before Alexis Sanchez, Pedro Rodriguez and a fantastic Neymar goal added to Messi’s double.
There were ugly scenes at El Madrigal, where Celta Vigo’s unlikely 2-0 win over Villarreal was marred by a serious incident which almost saw the match abandoned. Celta were leading when what appeared to be a smoke bomb was thrown on to the pitch, forcing the referee to take the players from the field and leading to most of the supporters leaving the stadium.
After a lengthy stoppage the players eventually re-emerged and the four remaining minutes were played, enough time for Nolito to add a barely deserved second goal for the visitors.
Arsenal’s Champions League opponents Bayern Munich extended their unbeaten run in the Bundesliga to 46 matches by thrashing Freiburg 4-0 on Saturday. However, the victory came at a cost as Switzerland midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri was ruled out of Wednesday’s trip to the Emirates with a thigh injury.
With Franck Ribéry already ruled out with a buttock injury, Shaqiri – who scored twice to stretch Bayern’s lead at the top over Bayer Leverkusen to 16 points – had been tipped to replace the Frenchman. The Bayern coach, Pep Guardiola, rested several key personnel against Freiburg and is now likely to hand a midfield role to his fellow Spaniard Thiago Alcantara.