Ronaldo hits 5 for Madrid, Messi lifts Barca over Atletico
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo netted five goals to become Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer in the Spanish league, while Lionel Messi scored as a substitute to give Barcelona a 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Ronaldo recorded his second career five-goal game to lead Madrid’s 6-0 rout at Espanyol, taking his tally to 231 goals in 203 matches and eclipsing Raul Gonzalez’s mark of 228 goals in 550 games.
In the clash between the last two champions, Fernando Torres put Atletico ahead in the 51st minute, only for Neymar to equalize from a free kick four minutes later.
Messi was on the bench following the recent birth of his second son. But he went on for the final half hour and immediately changed the match, scoring the 77th-minute winner from Luis Suarez’s pass.
“When we have the best player with us, we all play better,” Neymar said.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique said he spoke with Messi before the match and decided it was better not to start him to avoid a risk of injury, after Messi also played two friendlies with Argentina in the United States before the birth of his son.
“Leo is very, very important for us and his level of fitness is key,” Luis Enrique said. “We know the importance of these points, but there is a long way to go.”
Barcelona moved to the top of the standings after the defending champion’s third win in as many rounds. Madrid was two points behind, and Atletico three behind.
Suarez had the first scoring chance of the match at Vicente Calderon Stadium when he redirected the ball from a corner kick headed on by Rafina off the crossbar in the 24th.
Barcelona’s thin defense was playing already without the suspended Gerard Pique and the injured Dani Alves before it took another hit two minutes later when injury-prone Thomas Vermaelen pulled a leg muscle and needed to be replaced by Jeremy Mathieu
After a first half dominated by Barcelona but lacking in pace and scoring opportunities, Torres scored on Atletico’s first shot on goal. He scored his 10th goal in 14 career appearances against Barcelona by sending the ball in off the post after a series of quick passes led to Tiago Cardoso sending the ball forward for the veteran striker.
Atletico’s celebrations were cut short when Neymar earned a foul and converted it into a beautiful goal by striking a free kick over the barrier and beyond the diving reach of goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Messi then put Barcelona in charge, as Atletico dropped any plans of going forward and concentrated on trying to keep the star in check.
It didn’t matter because Messi almost set up Neymar before he found his first goal of the season to finish off a team buildup completed by Suarez’s assist.
“We didn’t play a good match,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “When they scored the equalizer we lost our control on the game. Messi is used to breaking open games and, once again, he was the difference.”
Also held scoreless in the first two rounds of the season, Ronaldo exploded with a blistering hat trick by the 20th minute, scoring from passes by Luka Modric and Gareth Bale in between a penalty kick earned by the Welshman.
Ronaldo passed for Karim Benzema to make it 4-0 against Espanyol’s demoralized defense before halftime, and he scored twice more to record his 32nd game with three or more goals for Madrid. Besides his two five-goal games, he has achieved four goals in a match on three occasions for Madrid.
Ronaldo’s latest scoring feat also moved the Ballon d’Or holder into fourth place on the Spanish league all-time scoring list. Messi holds the record with 286.
“In this case, the numbers speak for themselves,” Madrid coach Rafa Benitez said. “He could have scored even more today.”
At both games players wore T-shirts before the match in support of aid efforts to help the thousands of refugees arriving in Europe.
Elsewhere, Paco Alcacer headed in Valencia’s injury-time winner for 1-0 at Sporting Gijon, its first win in three league matches.
Real Betis edged Real Sociedad thanks to Ruben Castro’s goal before halftime for the promoted side’s first win.