BARCELONA, Spain — Three touches of the ball were all Lionel Messi needed to score for Barcelona on Saturday, showing that he is ready to take on his former coach Pep Guardiola in the Champions League.
Messi displayed no signs of rust after more than three weeks out of action with a right groin strain and scored inside of four minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute. The Argentine added to Barcelona’s 4-0 rout of Deportivo La Coruna, firing in a well-placed pass by Neymar in the Spanish league match.
Barcelona’s convincing win comes shortly before former Barcelona coach Guardiola comes home to Camp Nou at the helm of new club Manchester City for a highly anticipated European clash on Wednesday.
“We played a great game. This is the perfect way to arrive at the match against City,” said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who calls Guardiola a friend.
“I haven’t spoken to Pep,” Luis Enrique said. “(But) City will be a very attractive rival. It’s a team in continuous progression, and even more so now with its coach.”
It was a night of big wins for all the top teams in La Liga, as Atletico Madrid winger Yannick Carrasco scored a hat trick to keep Diego Simeone’s side at the top of the table by destroying Granada 7-1.
Real Madrid stayed second on goal difference to Atletico after outclassing Real Betis 6-1 to end its run of four consecutive draws. Sevilla ended its long wait for an away victory to remain a point behind in third, and a point ahead of fourth-placed Barcelona.
Rafinha put Barcelona in control with a brace of goals after Neymar, who excelled as Barcelona’s playmaker, hit the crossbar early. The Brazil midfielder won possession of the ball near Deportivo’s area before opening the score in the 21st and added a second in the 36th.
Luis Suarez tied Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann as the league’s leading scorer – with six goals – just before halftime after Neymar threaded a pass into the area for the striker.
Messi went on in the 55th to play for the first time since Sept. 21. He scored on his third touch of the ball in the 58th.
Deportivo, which had earned draws in its last two league visits to Camp Nou, lost Laureano “Laure” Sanabria to a direct red card for elbowing Neymar in the face in the 65th.
ATLETICO MADRID 7, GRANADA 1
In Carrasco, Atletico looks like it has found the ideal attack partner for Griezmann that it will need to sustain a run at the title.
Carrasco cancelled out Isaac Cuenca’s stunning opener for Granada with an equalizer in the 34th. The Belgian international struck twice more for the hosts after passes by Angel Correa and Antoine Griezmann to complete his first career treble.
“I am very happy for him, it’s a daily struggle for him to be what he was in this game,” Simeone said about the 23-year-old Carrasco. “He is a complete player, who has grown a lot, wants to keep growing and listens.”
Substitute Nicolas Gaitan netted two more goals before Correa and Tiago Cardoso completed the demolition of bottom-side Granada in the demoralizing debut of coach Lucas Alcaraz.
REAL BETIS 1, REAL MADRID 6
Zinedine Zidane got the performance he needed following a run of four draws that had sparked doubts regarding his management of Madrid’s underachieving team.
Madrid rolled from the start at Benito Villamarin Stadium, with Raphael Varane heading in the fourth-minute opener. Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon all followed with goals before halftime.
Isco curled in a beautiful second strike after Alvaro Cejudo pulled one back for Betis.
Cristiano Ronaldo polished off the win with the sixth goal after he missed earlier opportunities.
“My players are intelligent, they knew they needed to start the game like they did,” Zidane said. “If we play with the same intensity like we did from the start today, it (the four draws) won’t happen again.”
LEGANES 2, SEVILLA 3
It took 511 days and 23 matches but Sevilla finally ended its winless streak away from home in the Spanish league.
Pablo Sarabia curled the ball just inside the post to secure Sevilla’s 3-2 win at Leganes with five minutes remaining.