Messi weaves magic yet again

MADRID: Lionel Messi's second hat-trick in eight days took his season tally to 34 goals on Sunday as Barcelona won 4-2 at Zaragoza to stay second in the Spanish league behind Real Madrid.

The Argentina forward, who also hit a hat-trick last weekend against Valencia, now has a league-leading 25 goals after tormenting Zaragoza's defense with a combination of close dribbling, strength and deadly finishing. "He's the best player in the history of football," Barcelona president Joan Laporta said.

Messi headed home Pedro Rodriguez's cross in the fifth minute, but it was his 66th-minute strike that will be added to his lengthening list of great goals. He stole possession near halfway, bursting past one player before his quick feet left defender Matteo Contini on the turf. Contini could only clutch at his opponent's shorts as Messi beat goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez with a low shot that brought a standing ovation from most fans at La Romareda stadium. "To describe Messi, I've run out of adjectives," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. Messi followed that up with a curled shot in the 78th to beat Jimenez and claim his fifth career hat-trick.

Zaragoza's Adrian Colunga took advantage of defensive lapses to score twice in the closing moments. But Messi's dazzling skills led Contini to drag him down for a 90th-minute penalty that Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted for his first goal in March. Madrid and Barcelona both have 68 points, but Madrid lead on goal difference.

Mallorca moved into the Spanish league's Champions League places with a 4-1 victory over Atletico Madrid, while David Silva paced third-place Valencia to a 2-0 win over Almeria. Valencia have 50 points, Mallorca 46, Sevilla 44 and Athletic Bilbao and Deportivo La Coruna both have 42.

Also, Racing Santander came from behind to win 3-1 at Osasuna and Nabil Baha scored two second-half goals as Malaga beat Villarreal 2-0.

At Mestalla stadium, Almeria held out until the 63rd minute when Silva steered a precise ball into the box for Juanma Mata, who sent his shot inside the near post. Silva showed his athleticism in the 70th as the Spain international was tripped up inside the box after reaching David Villa's pass, but still managed to swipe a shot from the ground past goalkeeper Diego Alves and inside the far post.

Atletico's defense was dormant for much their game, including when Victor Casadesus slotted past goalkeeper David De Gea on his second attempt in the 10th minute. De Gea saved twice from Aduritz and then Casadesus before Atletico equalised in the 26th, Diego Forlan running in to redirect Jose Manuel Jurado's short cross home.

Aritz Aduritz put the hosts ahead again two minutes later by heading past De Gea after Atletico had failed to clear the ball. Atletico were reduced to 10 men in the 56th when Raul Garcia picked up a second yellow card. Luis Perea added to Atletico's pitiful performance scoring in the 86th before Felipe Mattioni completed the rout by spectacularly volleying Julio Alvarez's cross into the top corner.

At Pamplona, Miguel Flano headed Osasuna ahead in the 32nd before Gonzalo Colsa equalised three minutes later by latching on to a ball just outside the area to rifle home. Racing led through Christian Fernandez's header in the 51st, and teammate Papakouly Diop ensured victory with a goal in the 89th. It was Racing's first win in nearly two months and took the team seven points clear of the drop zone, as is Malaga.