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Weekend football round-up: King Leo, Prince Luis

Argentina's greatest puts Spain's greatest on his back; Talleres won't quit; River are bad, again.

Tuesday 27 February, 2018
Barcelona players (left to right) Sergio Busquets, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho celebrate after Suárez scores against Girona on Saturday.
Barcelona players (left to right) Sergio Busquets, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho celebrate after Suárez scores against Girona on Saturday. Foto:AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

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Lionel Messi will be 31 years old in June. You would never know it by watching him play. He quite literally continues to run circles around opponents on a regular basis. So far this season he’s tallied 32 goals and 18 assists in 45 games. He leads the Spanish league in goals (22), assists (12), shots on goal per game (2.88), dribbles per game (5.3) and a whole host of lesser stats.

Last week in the Champions League, he finally scored against Chelsea, bringing the number of teams he has faced but never scored against down to 10. And he has now scored against 36 different teams, more than any other player in La Liga history.

New coach Ernesto Valverde and reinforcements such as Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho (in the winter) have helped. But much of Barcelona’s success this season has been down to the pure class of Messi and Luis Suárez. The 31-year-old has similarly impressive numbers: 24 goals and nine assists in 40 games. He’s also second in La Liga scoring with 20 to his name this campaign.

The past weekend was just the latest showcase of this. The Barça backline let one in early against Girona, but the front line put in a shift to turn things around more than enough. The match ended 6-1 in Barcelona’s favour—two for Messi, three for Suárez, one for Coutinho.

Barcelona entered the 2017-18 season “in crisis,” as the pundits liked to say. They were clearly second best to Real Madrid, Neymar had left, their squad was thin, they’d failed to acquire Coutinho. The narrative has now flipped 180 degrees. Seven points ahead of Atlético Madrid, Barcelona will almost definitely win La Liga. They still have a strong chance of being champions of Europe and winning the Copa del Rey as well.

It’s not the most comprehensive and well-rounded team Barcelona has ever featured, but with these two up top, there’s no limit to how far they can go.

Argentine Superliga
The narrative at the top of the table continued as it has since league play resumed in February. Boca won (although in a more exciting six-goal affair with San Martín) and Talleres kept pace with a 2-0 win over Argentinos Juniors. San Lorenzo dropped points in a 1-0 loss to Gimnasia, but assuming they win their game in hand they are also nine points behind Boca, level with Talleres.

Independiente, Racing and Huracán all won to keep pace in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Eleventh through fourth place remain separated by just two points, leaving plenty of opportunities for the table to shift.

River Plate had another disastrous weekend: a red card and no goals scored in a 1-0 loss to Vélez Sársfield. They’re now in 21st place.

Find the whole week's results here, and the league table here.

La Selección
Lionel Messi played 90 minutes and scored two goals in Barcelona's (Spain, first) 6-1 win over Girona (10th), an exultant win that maintains their seven-point lead at the top of the table.

Éver Banega played 90 minutes at the heart of a thoroughly outplayed Sevilla (Spain, sixth) in their 5-2 loss to Atlético Madrid (second).

Sergio Agüero scored one goal and played 89 minutes in Manchester City's (England, first) 3-0 victory over Arsenal to win the League Cup on Sunday. Nicolás Otamendi played 90 minutes at centre-back. City will almost definitely win the Premier League, and are still one of the favourites for the Champions League, but crashed out of the FA Cup in a February 19 loss to Wigan.

Érik Lamela started and played 66 minutes in Tottenham's (England, fourth) eked out 1-0 win over Crystal Palace (17th).

Marcos Rojo nor Sergio Romero were not in the 18 for Manchester United’s (England, second) 2-1 win over Chelsea.

Ángel Di María came on in the 61st minute, Giovani Lo Celso started and played 71 minutes and Javier Pastore was an unused substitute in Paris Saint Germain’s (France, first) convincing 3-0 win over Marseille (third). The victory keeps PSG 14 points ahead of Monaco at the top of the table.

Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala saw no action this weekend due to Juventus' (Italy, second) match-up with Atalanta (eighth) being postponed because of snowfall in Turin.

Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano play for Hebei China Fortune (China), who begin their season in the Chinese Super League on March 3 against Tianjin Teda.

Tweet us @theBAtimes or me @jacobmeschke to let us know if you want something different in your Weekend Football Round-up.

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