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Friday, 04 December 2020

Messi in ebullient form as Barcelona take comfortable La Liga lead to final stages

AP , Friday 4 Mar 2016
Messi
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match CF Rayo Vallecano vs FC Barcelona at the Vallecas stadium in Madrid on March 3, 2016 (AFP)
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Barcelona enters the final stages of the Spanish league with a comfortable eight-point lead and Lionel Messi in ebullient form.

Neymar thrived early in the season, Luis Suarez was hot until recently, and Messi has taken over. He has 12 goals in his last eight games.

The five-time world player of the year is the top-scorer in the last 10 games for Barcelona, which hasn't been seriously challenged by any of its rivals. The team is enjoying a record 35-game unbeaten streak and has a chance to win a treble for the second season in a row. It will play the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla, and is in the round of 16 of the Champions League.

''Our players up front have been key,'' Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.

Barcelona will play at Eibar on Sunday with Messi coming off a hat trick in the 5-1 rout of Rayo Vallecano on Thursday. He has scored three or more goals 35 times for Barcelona. He has a European-high 20 goals in all competitions this year, and 33 for the season.

If he can lead Barcelona to another win - which would be the team's 11th in a row in the league - Messi would be only 10 games away from clinching his eighth Spanish league title.

Here are other things to watch in the Spanish league this weekend:

Call for peace 

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is asking for fans to show their support in the home game against Celta Vigo on Saturday. Madrid returns to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium a week after losing to Atletico Madrid 1-0.

''We want the love and support of the fans, and we'll give everything for them because they are so important to us,'' Zidane said on Friday. ''It's a game in which we must play as best we can.''

The squad will be boosted by the return of left back Marcelo and striker Gareth Bale, who were nursing injuries. Bale hasn't played since Jan. 17.

Madrid, 12 points behind Barcelona, is trying to secure third place in the standings to guarantee an automatic spot in the Champions League next season. It has a four-point lead over Villarreal, which hosts Las Palmas on Saturday.

Madrid's youngsters 

Still without several regular starters because of injuries - including Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric - Zidane is expected to rely on Madrid's youngsters again.

Forward Lucas Vazquez and 18-year-old striker Borja Mayoral impressed in the 3-1 win at last-place Levante on Wednesday.

View galleryBarcelona enters final stages in La Liga with hot  …
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right scores past Rayo Vallecano's Antonio Amaya, left, his side&# …
Zidane said Vazquez was ''committed,'' and noted that Mayoral was the immediate reserve in the attack because of his ''confidence and personality.''

No Neymar

Neymar will miss Barcelona's game at Eibar because of an accumulation of yellow cards.

He was shown his fifth yellow of the season after a late foul in the win at Rayo Vallecano on Thursday.

Neymar had a great start to the season but has scored only twice in the last nine games. He has 18 league goals, seven less than top-scorer Luis Suarez.

View galleryBarcelona enters final stages in La Liga with hot  …
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, celebrates with teammates Luis Suarez, centre, and Neymar, left …
OBLAK'S BEST

Atletico Madrid, eight points behind Barcelona in second place, plays at Valencia on Sunday looking to rely on good defense again.

Jan Oblak has kept a clean sheet for more than 500 minutes, and is the goalkeeper with the least amount of goals conceded in Europe. He has allowed only 11 league goals, two less than Manuel Neuer with Bayern Munich. Gianluigi Buffon has conceded 14 goals with Juventus in the Serie A.

Oblak, who recently renewed his contract with Atletico until 2021, hasn't allowed a goal in the last five games.

DECISIVE CHERYSHEV

Striker Denis Cheryshev, who made headlines after Real Madrid was disqualified from the Copa del Rey because he was ineligible, has been key for Valencia and is likely to start against Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Cheryshev scored two game-winners for Valencia in the last five matches, including one that ended the team's winless streak under coach Gary Neville.

Valencia has won five of its last six games in all competitions.

''We are in a good moment,'' Neville said. ''We are fighting well.''

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