Wizardry of Messi has Barcelona flying high

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The Independent Football

Lionel Messi scored his 13th and 14th goals of the season to send Barcelona four points clear at the top and remind everyone that soon-to-be-announced European Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo is not completely without peers.

Sir Alex Ferguson said last week of Ronaldo's imminent Balon D'Or award, "There isn't another player who can get close to him." Barcelona fans would beg to differ. If the football ever dries up for Messi the catwalk is unlikely to come calling. Those stumpy white legs just do not have Ronaldo's style and swagger but Messi is transformed in possession – that rare breed of player that actually looks quicker with the ball at his feet than without it – and he made La Liga's meanest defenders look like slouches with two lightning second-half strikes.

Seville had only conceded eight all season but having picked Samuel Eto'o's 14th league goal of the season out of his net in the first half, Andres Palop went head to head with Messi twice in the second period and lost hands down both times.

First Messi burst onto Xavi's header and from the edge of the box unleashed a shot that Palop could only watch fly past him. Then the Seville keeper came charging out to the edge of his box to meet the oncoming Messi only for the Argentine to shuffle around him and angle in his second and Barça's third.

Messi is joint top scorer in the Champions League, level with Steven Gerrard on five goals, and his nine in the league have helped Barcelona make it to 40 goals in just 13 games. They have also hit the woodwork 17 times. Only four of those strikes have come from the boots of Thierry Henry and he was once more below par as his strike partners got the goals.

Seville were billed as Barça's first real test of the season but in truth there was little resistance and when, with five minutes left and already 2-0 down, Luis Fabiano elbowed Sergi Busquets, was sent off, and then had to be restrained from confronting the linesman who had flagged up his indiscretion, all hope was gone.

"If he learned how to keep his head he would be a great player," bemoaned Freddie Kanouté of his fellow Seville forward.

If the defeat was painful for the home supporters, who gave Dani Alves a warm welcome on his return to the Sanchez Pizjuan, it also made unpleasant viewing for Real Madrid who just minutes before had lost 3-1 away to Getafe, blowing the €120,000 bonus they had been promised if they could string together five wins, and thereby extending Barcelona's lead at the top.

"The result isn't painful" said back-under-fire coach Bernd Schuster "because we know it could have been a lot worse." Getafe dominated the Spanish champions with Juan Angel Albin scoring twice and Nigerian striker Uche adding a third.

Real visit Barcelona in two weeks' time and currently have 10 first-team players sidelined. Midfielder Wesley Sneijder hobbled off on Saturday and full-back Miguel Torres also failed to make it to half-time.

Such a casualty list has given Schuster an excuse for the side's failure to keep up with pacesetters Barcelona and has even led to the finger of blaming being pointed at Walter di Salvo. The former Manchester United fitness coach has been accused of not preparing the players properly for match days as the club runs out of players and scapegoats.

For Schuster, January, and the arrival of two new as yet unidentified major signings cannot come quickly enough. His greatest concern is that the distance between his team and Barcelona could by then already be into double figures.

Villarreal climbed back up to second last night and closed the gap on Barcelona to four points with a 2-1 win at Recreativo Huelva. Manuel Pellegrini's side took advantage of Real's loss yesterday to move up a place thanks to first-half goals from Santi Cazorla and Ariel Ibagaza.

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