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Messi sends Barca top

MADRID, January 11 – Lionel Messi scored a sensational hat-trick as champions Barcelona nudged Real Madrid off the top of the table crushing Tenerife 5-0 away on Sunday for their first victory of 2010.Barca scored three times in a destructive nine minutes with Ballon D’Or winner Messi scoring two of them (36, 45) before clinching his hat-trick with a nonchalant curler late in the second half to join Valencia’s David Villa on 12 goals at the top of the goalscoring charts.

"It was complicated for us at the beginning but we scored some quick goals and that changed things," said Messi. "I am delighted with my three goals and more importantly the team won, however, it is a bit unfair on Tenerife."

Real Madrid had leapfrogged Barca with a 2-0 home win over Real Mallorca earlier on Sunday but Pep Guardiola’s side responded to move back to the summit two points ahead of Real.

Barcelona’s next challenge is at Sevilla in the second leg of the last 16 Kings Cup tie in which they trail 2-1 from the first leg.

Madrid had moved top of the Spanish league for the first time since the end of November with goals from Esteban Granero and Gonzalo Higuain overcoming Mallorca as they maintained their flawless home record with a ninth consecutive win.

"When Real Madrid are on song we are difficult to stop," said Granero, nicknamed ‘The Pirate’. "I am happy to get on the scoresheet and that we beat a difficult rival in testing conditions.

"We just have to carry on like we are doing and Barcelona will have to slip up at some stage."

However, Real’s stay at the top was brief as Barca recovered from a shaky start to put Tenerife to the sword with Messi so inspirational that even the home Tenerife fans were applauding him at the end.

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Carles Puyol was also on target with an Ezequiel Luna own goal completing the scoring after great footwork from Pedro Rodriguez.

It was tough on Tenerife who lost 6-0 the last time they hosted Barcelona in the top-flight back in 2001.

Tenerife’s Alejandro Alfaro could have had a hat-trick in the opening quarter hour hitting the crossbar and forcing Victor Valdes into action.

Barca had been quiet but Bojan Krkic ghosted past his man in the 36th minute and cut back for Messi to score.

Tenerife were aggrieved and it got worse for them as Barca scored twice in two minutes.

A minute before the break Messi curled in a devilish free-kick and Puyol used the pace of the ball to glance in a header.

On the chime of half-time Andres Iniesta’s sublime pass released the effective Bojan who set up a tap-in for Messi and a 3-0 lead they didn’t deserve.

Thierry Henry smacked the post early in the second half before Messi showed why he is the best player on the planet curling in brilliantly from 20 yards as if he were still in a training session.

Freezing temperatures and snow in the Spanish capital saw some Real fans at home but for the players gloves and undergarments were the order of the day.

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Kaka returned for Real in his first appearance since injuring his groin at the end of November and almost scored on his return.

Mallorca had won 3-1 at Real last season but got off to a nightmare start conceding after just seven minutes.

Higuain cut inside and curled a beautiful shot into the top corner with his left foot that gave the goalkeeper no chance.

Substitute Granero volleyed in expertly minutes after the break to clinch the points.

Valencia lie six points behind Real in third after making it seven wins from nine on the road defeating bottom side Xerez 3-1 on Sunday.

"Barcelona and Real Madrid have a high number of points and in past seasons we would be top or close to them with the points tally we have," said Valencia coach Unai Emery.

Spanish internationals Juan Mata, David Silva and Carlos Marchena were all on target to clinch victory at Xerez and boost confidence for Thursday’s last 16 King’s Cup match at Deportivo La Coruna.

Deportivo are four points behind Valencia in fourth after a 1-0 home victory over Osasuna on Sunday thanks to a Juan Rodriguez goal.

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