Madrid: Lionel Messi netted a first-half hat-trick as Barcelona extended their winning start to their La Liga title defence with an action-packed 3-2 win at Valencia on Sunday.
A matter of hours before they sealed the purchase of Wales winger Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid racked up a maximum nine points when they beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1 at the Bernabeu, while Atletico Madrid also made it three wins in three with a 2-1 success at Real Sociedad.
Barca were cruising in an entertaining contest at the Mestalla after Messi struck in the 10th and 39th minutes from Cesc Fabregas assists before Neymar set the Argentine up for his third in the 41st.
Valencia stormed back with two goals from Helder Postiga on the stroke of halftime, including an acrobatic volley. Messi, on the other hand, uncharacteristically squandered three golden opportunities late on and goalkeeper Victor Valdes saved Barca with a fingertip save onto the post from an 86th-minute Jonas effort.
“We let them back into the game but we were strong enough at the end to hold on for the win,” Barca playmaker Andres Iniesta said.
“This is a very tough stadium to play at, with the atmosphere and the intensity with which they play,” added the Spain international. “It’s about continuing to improve, we are just at the start of the season.
“It’s logical that we need to aim higher and the sooner we can find our optimum level and stay there for an extended time the better.”
Messi missed last weekend’s 1-0 win at Malaga with a bruised thigh and although he fluffed those late chances on Sunday he looked close to his scintillating best. (Reuters)