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Messi closes year with 50 goals as Barcelona routs Alavés

MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi closed the year with a total of 50 goals for club and country for the sixth straight time, helping Barcelona stay in position to keep the Spanish league lead entering the holiday break.

Luis Suárez, Antoine Griezmann and Arturo Vidal also scored as Barcelona comfortably defeated Alavés 4-1 on Saturday to open a three-point lead over second-place Real Madrid, which hosts Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Barcelona holds a five-goal advantage over Madrid in the tiebreaker between the teams. Barcelona and Madrid drew 0-0 in the first “clásico” of the season on Wednesday in a game postponed from October because of a separatist rally in the Catalan capital.

“We played only a few days ago, we were a bit tired, but we played a good match,” Griezmann said. “Now we get some deserved time off. We will try to get better when we come back. We can still improve."

This is the last round before the break, with the league resuming in the first week of January. It was the ninth year Messi finished with at least 50 goals overall for club and country — 45 of them in 2019 for Barcelona, five for Argentina. He reached the mark every year since 2010, with the exception of 2013 when he had 45. Messi's highest mark was 91 goals in total in 2012.

“He gives us a great advantage,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “Leo can suddenly show up and score out of nowhere like that.” Messi's 50th goal came with a beautiful strike from outside the area in the 69th minute after a setup by Suárez.

The goal allowed Messi to surpass Real Madrid's Karim Benzema as the league's top scorer with 13 goals, one more than the Frenchman. Suárez is next with 10 goals. Griezmann has seven, including three in his last four league games.

Suárez had a role in all four goals at the Camp Nou Stadium, scoring his own from a penalty kick in the 75th. The Uruguay striker had also set up Griezmann's opener in the 14th and Vidal's goal in the 45th.

Alavés, winless in four consecutive league matches, scored with a header by Pere Pons in the 56th. The visitors had a couple of good chances before Messi's strike dampened their chances of a comeback.

“We knew it was difficult to earn points here,” Pons said. “At one point we controlled possession and created some good chances, but in the end we were playing against Barça and against Messi, it's complicated.”

Barcelona had two goals disallowed for offside, one by Messi in the first half and another by Griezmann in the second. Alavés has won only one of its nine away games in the league this season. It is 15th in the standings, five points from safety.

Barcelona extended its unbeaten streak in all competitions to 10 matches. It was coming off two consecutive league draws — 2-2 against Real Sociedad and 0-0 against Madrid. It had won nine of its 10 league games before that.

Barcelona has won six straight league matches against Alavés, averaging more than three goals a game. The crowd of 63,054 was the second lowest at the Camp Nou this season, with 58,198 at the league game against Valladolid in October.

SEVILLA WINS AGAIN Sevilla won 2-0 at relegation-threatened Mallorca to end a two-game winless streak and strengthen its grip on third place. Diego Carlos scored in the first half and Éver Banega in the second to leave Sevilla within five points of Barcelona.

It was the fifth straight winless league game for Mallorca, which is only one point outside the relegation zone. Mallorca complained of a foul by Carlos in Sevilla's first goal, and Banega's second goal came from a penalty kick awarded after video review. Mallorca also had a goal disallowed by VAR because of offside.

Sevilla was coming off a home loss to Villarreal and a draw at Osasuna. VALENCIA'S LATE DRAW Valencia salvaged a 1-1 draw at Valladolid thanks to Manu Vallejo's goal four minutes into stoppage time. The hosts had opened the scoring with an 83rd-minute goal by Sergi Guardiola.

Valencia, which had won three games in a row in all competitions, moved to seventh place. Valladolid — winless in six league matches — is in 14th place. VILLARREAL'S HOME WIN Mói Gomez scored early in the second half to give Villarreal a 1-0 win over 10-man Getafe, ending the team's three-game winless streak at home.

Fourth-place Getafe, which had won three in a row, had defender Mathías Olivera sent off in the 61st. Villarreal moved to ninth place.

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