Messi brace fires Barça to victory
Barcelona closed the gap on Real Madrid at the top of the Primera Division back to ten points thanks to another two goals from Lionel Messi at Racing Santander.
Andres Iniesta had hit the bar and Cesc Fabregas was denied by a fine save from Mario Fernandez before Messi put the visitors in front as he slid in to meet Fabregas' cross on 29 minutes. And the Argentinian doubled his and Barça's tally for the day when a penalty was given after Fabregas went down under Domingo Cisma's challenge. Messi sent Mario the wrong from the spot.
Barcelona and Messi in particular had been in record-breaking form in midweek as they swept aside Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 in the UEFA Champions League. And, although, they never quite hit those heights at El Sardinero, they were never in danger against a Racing side who failed to muster a single shot on goal all day.
Messi was first to threaten as his free-kick was well turned away by Mario before another quickly taken free-kick ended up at the feet of Iniesta and his delightfully floated effort clipped the top of the bar on its way over. Fabregas then should have opened the scoring as he burst through one-on-one with Mario, but the keeper closed the angle well and made a good save.
However, it was only a matter of time before the European champions found a way through and the goal duly arrived when another Fabregas run into the box saw the former Arsenal midfielder this time turn the ball across goal and Messi was there to apply the finishing touch.
New Racing coach Alvaro Cervera brought on Christian Stuani for Khouma Babacar at half-time in a forlorn attempt to turn the game around, but the one way traffic continued in the second period and Mario had to produce another fine save to deny Isaac Cuenca from point-blank range on 54 minutes.
Two minutes later, though, the visitors were given the opportunity to seal all three points when a challenge by Cisma on Fabregas was called for penalty and Messi made no mistake from the spot to move within five goals of Cesar Rodriguez's record as Barça's all-time leading scorer. Cuenca was unlucky again minutes later as he struck the outside of the post and Messi was twice denied his second hat-trick of the week by another decent save from Mario and a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Alvaro Gonzalez.
Mario again came to Racing's rescue late on as he parried Pedro's attempted chip, but there was to be no response from the hosts in the attacking third as they remain without a win since January and three points from safety in 18th place.