After helping FC Barcelona revive their Liga-winning hopes with a hat-trick in a 4-3 win at Real Madrid CF, Lionel Messi insisted there would be scant time to celebrate as the title race neared its climax.
Trailing Madrid by four points with ten games to go prior to Sunday's Clásico encounter at the Santiago Bernabéu, Barça coach Gerardo Martino said his team were facing into their "last chance to win Liga". The visitors responded accordingly, with Andrés Iniesta opening the scoring in the seventh minute of a pulsating encounter in the Spanish capital. A subsequent Karim Benzema double tested the reigning champions' resolve during a first half in which Messi leveled proceedings before the break.
Cristiano Ronaldo's 55th-minute spot-kick swung the encounter back in Madrid's favour until Barcelona's No10 converted two penalties to complete a hat-trick against a Madrid side that were reduced to ten men following Sergio Ramos's dismissal.
"That was an extremely important win for us," Messi said after a result that brought Barcelona to within a point of Madrid and new leaders Club Atlético de Madrid. "On a personal level, things are working out for me but we must focus on the great work the team as a whole put in; [we] always respond on the big occasions."
Now El Clásico's all-time top scorer with 21 goals, Messi's second successive Liga treble took his competition tally to 236 goals, two more than Hugo Sánchez and 15 short of Telmo Zarra, who currently tops Spain's all-time, top-flight scoring charts. More concerned with his side's next challenge – Barcelona host RC Celta de Vigo on Wednesday – the Argentinian explained that slip-ups like the recent losses at Real Sociedad de Fútbol and Real Valladolid CF would no longer be permitted. "There are so few games left now that we can't allow any more mistakes," he said. "We must quickly forget about tonight and concentrate on the future."
For Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, defeat brought an end to a 31-game unbeaten run in all competitions, a sequence that began immediately after the Merengues suffered a 2-1 reverse at Camp Nou last October. "I've said many times that the Liga will be open until the last game," the Italian tactician assured. "We're not happy because we've missed an important chance tonight and we didn't deserve to lose [but] we have the ability and hunger to quickly get over this [setback].
"We now need to start thinking about [the game away to Sevilla FC on Wednesday]; that could be a key encounter," added Ancelotti. The coach of Liga leaders Atlético, Diego Simeone, will no doubt be thinking the same of Los Rojiblancos' home meeting with Granada CF the same night.
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