Originally posted on Fox Soccer  |  Last updated 1/22/12
Lionel Messi scored a rare header in his hat trick on Sunday to lead Barcelona to a 4-1 win at Malaga, keeping the pressure on Spanish leader Real Madrid ahead of its game against in-form Athletic Bilbao. Messi started the rout in the 33rd minute and then added two more after Alexis Sanchez had doubled the lead at the start of the second half. The Argentina forward now has a league-high 22 goals this season, one more than Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Madrid will be trying to shake off its midweek loss to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, with its fierce rivals trailing by two points in the standings at the season's midway point. ''There is a long way to go, all the second half of the season, and we will keep pushing all the way,'' Messi said. Barcelona will look to protect its 2-1 advantage over Madrid at Camp Nou on Wednesday, and coach Pep Guardiola looked to have the second leg in mind. Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Carles Puyol were left on the bench, with Thiago Alcantara, Adriano and Javier Mascherano taking their place. Like Espanyol and Real Betis the past two weeks, Malaga came out with the plan to show attacking intent. After Alexis and Messi had probed the home team's defense, Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes had to make three saves in a row from Francisco ''Isco'' Alarcon. The 19-year-old forward first forced Valdes to parry his long-range strike and then saw the Spain international make reflex saves to stop a header and a shot after a rebound from the resulting corner. Barcelona has struggled away this season, with just one win in its previous four outings. But once Messi found the net for just the second time away from home this season, the hosts had little trouble making Malaga look like the team it was before a ?60 million ($77.5 million) overhaul in the offseason. Andres Iniesta passed to Adriano out wide and he squared for Messi to guide a graceful header past diving goalkeeper Willy Caballero. It was Messi's first headed goal in the league this season and just his 10th ever for Barcelona out of 216 goals. ''(Messi's) greatest virtue is his consistency,'' Guardiola said. ''He has been playing at such a high level for a long time. These goals will help him in the games to come.'' Barcelona made short work of Malaga after halftime, with Alexis pouncing on the rebound following a shot by Thiago and firing inside the top of the goal in the 48th. As special as his first goal was, the second was pure Messi. The three-time Ballon D'Or winner put the result beyond doubt three minutes later when he recovered the ball in Malaga territory, skirted through a swarm of reeling defenders and slotted a left-footed strike into the left corner. He then hit the crossbar from a free kick in the 75th but was not to be denied seven minutes later when he charged down the left flank, rode a defender's tackle and beat Caballero with a light touch of his left foot to send the ball bouncing into the far side of the net. Malaga substitute striker Jose Rondon scored the hosts' late consolation goal.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Gordon clarifies comments about Browns' ‘disadvantages’

LeBron on chat with Lonzo Ball: 'None of y'all business'

Report: Belichick has ‘some sort of issue’ with Brady’s trainer

ESPN releases texts to defend Buccigross against sexual harassment claim

Mirza Teletovic diagnosed with pulmonary emboli in both lungs

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Andrew Luck reportedly will not need second shoulder surgery

Broncos reportedly will target quarterback during offseason

WATCH: George W. Bush narrates emotional Houston Strong video

Rams punter Johnny Hekker selling LA fire relief T-shirts for charity

Mayweather-McGregor is second-highest PPV fight in history

Diamondbacks reportedly may be willing to eat some of Zack Greinke’s salary

Five MLB teams that should trade for Manny Machado

The 'It's always chilly in Indiana' quiz

NFL puts safety entirely on players, again

Eight NFL teams who simply need to start over

Most important player on every team in each bowl matchup

NFL Week 15 Predictions

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Boogie, Z-Bo reach out and punch someone

Newcomers help Predators get back to 'Smashville' hockey

How Buddy Hield became the NBA's newest sniper

NFL MVP Watch: Antonio Brown enters suddenly wide-open race

The 'Is there anything Brown can't do for you?' quiz

Matt Barnes and the looming end of the NBA's enforcers

Soccer News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

The 'It's always chilly in Indiana' quiz

NFL puts safety entirely on players, again

Most important player on every team in each bowl matchup

NFL Week 15 Predictions

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Boogie, Z-Bo reach out and punch someone

The 'Is there anything Brown can't do for you?' quiz

Newcomers help Predators get back to 'Smashville' hockey

How Buddy Hield became the NBA's newest sniper

NFL MVP Watch: Antonio Brown enters suddenly wide-open race

The 'To the Victor, go the spoils' quiz

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker