BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — That’s 400 and counting.
Lionel Messi took his all-time Spanish league scoring record to 400 goals on Sunday after contributing to a 3-0 win over Eibar to keep defending champion Barcelona comfortably at the top.
Messi scored Barcelona’s second goal shortly after halftime to reach a milestone in the competition after 435 league matches. Former Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo is second all-time in La Liga with 311 goals.
In all competitions, Barcelona says the 31-year-old Messi has scored an astonishing 575 goals in 658 appearances.
“He is from another galaxy,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “They are incredible numbers. But he does much more than score goals, he also does so much to generate scoring chances for others.”
Barcelona’s all-time top scorer got the landmark goal in the 53rd minute after Luis Suarez passed to him inside Eibar’s area. The Argentine did the rest by opening an angle around a defender and driving in a low left-footed shot.
It was also Messi’s league-leading 17th league goal and his 23rd goal overall this season.
“He should be proud,” said Suarez, who scored Barcelona’s other two goals. “Game after game he shows what a great player he is. I am happy for him and for the history that he is writing for this club.”
Barcelona stayed five points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, which edged Levante 1-0 thanks to a penalty from Antoine Griezmann, as the league reached its midway point.
Real Madrid lost Karim Benzema to a right-hand injury in a 2-1 win at Real Betis to stay 10 points back in fourth place.
After 90-plus minutes of prowling the sideline, yelling at his players and stoking his fans, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone normally hurries off the pitch when the final whistle sounds.
But after the victory over Levante, Simeone took time to embrace each of his players — a show of appreciation for their efforts that kept Atletico in the title chase.
“I felt the need to hug them,” Simeone said. “I congratulated them because they maintained the same level of play throughout the entire match.”
Despite only scoring one goal, Simeone called it “one of, if not our best, performances of the season.”
True to Simeone’s defense-first approach, Atletico stifled a Levante attack that is among the best in the league.
Griezmann did the rest, scoring his team-leading ninth league goal of the season when he fired a spot kick over Levante goalkeeper Oier Olazabal in the 57th minute following a handball by defender Nikola Vukcevic.
CEBALLOS TO THE RESCUE
Dani Ceballos was greeted with jeers when he went on as a late Real Madrid substitute to face his former club, Real Betis.
But he silenced the crowd, and saved his current club from another setback, when he sent a free kick through a gap in the defensive wall to grab the win with two minutes remaining.
“I was eager to show what I can do,” Ceballos said.
Luka Modric struck from distance to open the scoring for Madrid, only for Sergio Canales to equalize in the second half.
Sevilla lost 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao, ending its unbeaten run in nine rounds.
Bilbao forward Inaki Williams scored both goals for the hosts to help lift them out of the relegation zone.
Sevilla remained in third place, level on points with Madrid.
Sevilla had won 3-1 at Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium in the Copa del Rey on Thursday. They will meet again on Wednesday in Seville in the return leg of their round-of-16 game.
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