Lionel Messi's answer to Ronaldo's bike? A hat trick, of course

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring one of his three goals for Barcelona against Leganes on Saturday. (Reuters)
Lionel Messi celebrates scoring one of his three goals for Barcelona against Leganes on Saturday. (Reuters)

Cristiano Ronaldo did something extraordinary this week. And for the past decade, extraordinary Cristiano Ronaldo exploits have provoked two things: Debates over the identity of the greatest player of all time, and retorts from the man who actually holds that title. On Saturday, the pattern continued.

As he has done throughout his career, Messi responded to Ronaldo’s brilliance with brilliance of his own. He almost single-handedly led Barcelona to a 3-1 victory over Leganes with a hat trick. Because of course he did.

The little Argentine genius has made a habit of one-upping Ronaldo whenever the GOAT arguments resurface. He didn’t quite do that Saturday, because very little could outdo Ronaldo’s bicycle kick against Juventus in the Champions League. But Messi did what he has done all season.

He propelled Barca to a 38th consecutive La Liga victory, and brought them within seven games of the first unbeaten season in the Spanish top-flight’s modern history.

His first goal was a trademark free kick, up and over the wall, his sixth of the season. It tied Ronaldinho’s record for free kick goals in a La Liga campaign. And as ever, it was basically unstoppable.

For No. 2, Messi took a pass from Philippe Coutinho, wriggled in between two defenders and finished under pressure.

No. 3 sealed the deal. Leganes players complained of a hand ball. Messi, his timing and anticipation, and his dink over the keeper didn’t care.

The goals were Messi’s 37th, 38th and 39th of the season, brining him level with Ronaldo. They were his 27th, 28th and 29th in La Liga, seven more than Ronaldo.

Those numbers don’t mean much. But Messi’s continued ability to carry an otherwise underwhelming Barca team at the age of 30 has been remarkable. He isn’t quite as good as ever, but he’s pretty darn close. And because similar odes were written to Ronaldo earlier this week, he had to offer a timely reminder.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.