Messi scored twice and Neymar went one better with a hat-trick in Barca’s rout but champions Atletico Madrid are on their tail after a late Raul Jimenez header completed a 4-0 victory over Sevilla that left them two points behind in second.
Real Madrid are also in hot pursuit, four points behind in fifth, after Cristiano Ronaldo kept up his rich scoring form with the second goal in a 2-0 win at Villarreal where Luka Modric had put them ahead.
Messi’s extraordinary achievement of reaching the career landmark of 400 goals was the highlight of Barca’s victory, leading to effusive praise for the great Argentine from manager Luis Enrique.
“He (Messi) is someone who has been given a real magic and who enjoys playing football. I was thinking about taking him
off but I enjoy watching him so much that I left him on for the 90 minutes,” Enrique told a news conference.
Messi’s second goal, thieving the ball off Jeison Murillo and slotting past the keeper, was the landmark 400th — his 358th for Barcelona to accompany the 42 he has scored for Argentina.
It illuminated Barca’s perfect response following their 0-0 draw at Malaga, which featured not one shot on target and they now have 16 points from six games.
Neymar broke Granada’s stubborn resistance with a scrappy goal midway through the first half when his shot hit Jean-Sylvain Babin and looped over keeper Roberto Fernandez.
Then in the run-up to halftime Granada’s concentration slipped as Ivan Rakitic headed home a Messi cross and Neymar got his second.
A fine move led to Dani Alves volleying a cross for Messi to head home the fourth after 65 minutes before Neymar struck again to complete his treble four minutes later, confidently picking his spot in the corner.
“The team is looking very efficient at the moment whichever players we are putting out,” said Luis Enrique.
Barca are yet to have a goal scored against them in the league after six games and Rakitic put that achievement down to team discipline.
“We knew the game against Malaga was going to be difficult, the same as against Granada, but here we have been patient and shown better movement,” he said.
“We had to work hard. The fact that we haven’t conceded a goal yet is not a coincidence but due to the effort we are putting in.”
Villarreal matched Real’s slick passing for much of the game but their finishing let them down. Modric gave the visitors the lead on the half hour with a drive into the corner from 20 metres.
Carlo Ancelotti gave his attacking players licence to exchange positions and Karim Benzema, returning to the side, picked out Ronaldo to finish clinically in the centre of the penalty area five minutes from the break. It was his 10th league goal this season.
“The best aspect is that we won a difficult game against a side that played very well,” said Ancelotti.
“We controlled the game. We had to suffer at times and at others we were able to play our football. It was a good game from us where we had a good attitude and we deserved to win.”
Sevilla have started the season strongly and went into the match on the back of four league wins but they were brought down to earth by Atletico who were a constant threat with their physical attacking play.
Koke put them ahead with a deflected shot from the edge of the area and Saul Niguez doubled the lead before half-time with a cushioned header from Miranda’s cross.
Raul Garcia scored a late penalty after Carrico brought down Antoine Griezmann inside the area and in stoppage time Jimenez headed in a Koke cross.
“Along with the Super Cup match with (Real) Madrid, these have been our strongest games,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.
“We were more stable by packing the midfield. It allowed us to build play, have intensity, win the ball back and create chances. In football when you are more solid in midfield it is easier to create chances.”
In other La Liga games on Saturday, Athletic Bilbao drew 0-0 with Eibar and Rayo Vallecano won 2-0 away at Levante. – Reuters