Liga - Milestone for Messi in Barca win
Lionel Messi surpassed the great Ladislao Kubala's tally for Barcelona when scoring his 195th and 196th goals for the Catalans in a comprehensive 3-0 win over Racing Santander in La Liga.
Messi drew level with the Hungarian - who starred for Barca between 1950 and 1961 - when scoring twice against BATE Borisov before the international break, but the 24-year-old is now clear on his own as Barca's second greatest goalscorer - behind only Cesar Rodriguez, whose tally of 235 he moves inexorably closer to.
The forward claimed his 15th goal of the season after 11 minutes at Camp Nou with another moment of brilliance. Xavi added a rare header before the break and Messi then converted with an opportunistic finish after 68 minutes to secure a well-deserved victory against a side still seeking their first win of the season.
Racing coach Hector Cuper had described Pep Guardiola's Barcelona as the "closest I've seen to perfection" prior to the game, and while they were not at their best in a routine victory, the win sees them displace rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table and move a point clear.
Barcelona have a reputation for being somewhat unimpressive following international breaks - a phenomenon that has been dubbed the "FIFA virus" in Spain - but they few no ill effects from the Euro 2012 qualifying double header during an archetypal performance against Racing.
With Andres Iniesta back in the side for the first time in a month having recovered from injury, Barcelona neglected to even field a defensive midfielder as the Spain star lined up alongside international colleagues Thiago and Xavi. However, Guardiola was forced into one early change as Gerard Pique appeared to pull a muscle and was replaced by Eric Abidal.
Barca were plagued by defensive lapses in the opening exchanges, with Carles Puyol particularly slack, and were somewhat fortunate not to be punished by Pedro Munitis and Kone. However, one they were in front a 37th win in 44 home league games against Racing was all but a certainty.
Inevitably it was Messi who opened the scoring at Camp Nou, and inevitably it was a moment of pure genius from the Argentina star. After exchanging passes with Iniesta after 11 minutes, Messi darted away from two men, lifted the ball over another with his first touch, shimmied around goalkeeper Tono and rolled the ball home.
It was the 24-year-old's 195th goal for Barcelona and his 15th of the season, and another almost followed inside two minutes as he swapped passes with David Villa before seeing his shot deflect over for a corner.
Racing enjoyed a rare chance when Munitis fed Kone and the striker attempted to catch out Victor Valdes with a snapshot that the keeper caught with the tips of his fingers. However, normal service resumed on 28 minutes when Xavi scored Barcelona's first headed goal of the season.
Pedro made the goal with a lovely cross into space but Xavi was left criminally unmarked to leap into the air and direct a header down into the net.
Barca really began to hit their stride and Puyol should have made it three on 37 minutes. Xavi picked out a superb run from Pedro with a lovely ball around the corner but when the forward pulled the ball back for his captain, Puyol somehow failed to convert from five yards out.
Villa was similarly culpable four minutes later. Messi, turning provider, opened up the pitch for the Spain striker with a perfectly weighted pass but after Villa's touch took him round the goalkeeper, he found himself a touch off balance and was unable to steer his shot between the posts.
In a half that saw Barcelona enjoy 82 per cent possession, it was inevitable that chances would flow and Messi almost finished the half with a second goal. Maxwell took possession after a fluid passing move and cut the ball back to the forward. However, his first-time effort was blocked by Bernardo.
Racing enjoyed a rare chance right at the start of the second half as they threatened to catch Barca cold but after Kone's clever piece of control he saw his effort saved by Valdes at full stretch. Barcelona responded by reasserting their almost total dominance.
Messi, whether dribbling past three men or cutting the defence open with a pass, was a constant menace for Barca, and should have won a penalty on 67 minutes when he slipped away from two markers only to be brought down just inside the box by the toe of Alvaro. Perplexingly there was no penalty award as Pedro collected the loose ball and shot wide.
On 68 minutes he did claim a second though, in a snapshot that demonstrated why he is more than just a greedy accumulator of goals. Spotting a run from Iniesta, Messi threaded a lovely ball through for the midfielder, who controlled, took the ball away from his marker and thumped an effort against the bottom of the post. Messi ghosted into the perfect position to convert on the half-volley from the rebound.
Barca almost added an unlikely fourth when Abidal executed an overhead kick but Tono was smart to it and saved. However, three was easily sufficient as Barca moved ahead of Madrid once again.