Leo Messi reaches 82 goals as Barça stay clear on top

Leo Messi reaches 82 goals as Barça stay clear on top

MADRID - Agence France-Presse / Reuters
Leo Messi reaches 82 goals as Barça stay clear on top

Messi (R) celebrates with teammate Jordi Alba after scoring one of his two goals against Levante. REUTERS photo

Lionel Messi struck twice as Barcelona won 4-0 at Levante on Nov. 25 to remain three points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga.

Messi’s goals were both laid on by Andres Iniesta who also hit the target himself before supplying Cesc Fabregas for the fourth.

The Argentine’s brace means he now has 82 goals in 2012, just six short of German legend Gerd Mueller’s all-time calendar record set in 1972.

He also tops the La Liga charts for the season with 19 goals.

Atletico had earlier beaten Sevilla 4-0 to keep pace at the top and go eight points ahead of city rivals Real Madrid in third who had lost 1-0 at Betis on Nov. 25.

Barça’s win increases its gap over Real Madrid to 11 points, but coach Tito Vilanova does not see the league as being won so early in the season.

“The league is not over, we’re only a third through and Atletico are three points behind us. There is a lot to play for. We have been 11 ahead of Madrid before and we suffered a lot in the end,” he said.

Best start to league

Barcelona’s 4-0 win equaling the best start to La Liga but there was an extra source of pride for the Catalan club as it was achieved playing with an entire team of players developed through its academy for most of the match.

After Martin Montoya replaced injured Brazil full-back Daniel Alves in the 14th minute in Valencia, all 11 team members on the pitch were products of Barça’s famed “La Masia” youth academy.

Pearls of the current crop include Messi, Iniesta and midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who left for a stint at Arsenal before returning to his boyhood club.

Dream turns reality

“It’s a fact that should make us proud,” Vilanova, himself a product of La Masia, said at a news conference when asked about the 11 academy players in the side against Levante. “Because what’s more seven or eight of them are from Catalonia.”

By contrast, only two of the regular starters in the current Real team are from the club’s academy, goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas and full-back Alvaro Arbeloa.

“It’s extraordinary, and all the more so for those of us who were trained at the Masia,” midfielder Xavi, widely regarded as the finest playmaker of his generation, told reporters. “(Former Barça coach Louis) van Gaal said once that his dream was to see 11 academy players together on the pitch and today it became reality.”