Unstoppable Messi in sight of Barca scoring record

JOSEPH WILSON Associated Press Published:

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Records are falling fast and furious for Barcelona scoring ace Lionel Messi, and he already has another one in his sights.

The three-time world player of the year became the first player to score five goals in the Champions League in Barcelona's 7-1 rout of Bayer Leverkusen, leaving him just eight goals away from taking over as the Spanish club's all-time leading scorer.

Racing Santander will be the next team to try to succeed where Leverkusen failed when the relegation-threatened outfit hosts Barcelona in the Spanish league on Sunday.

With Barcelona's attack missing the injured David Villa and Alexis Sanchez, the defending champions will once again turn to Messi to add to his season tally of 48 goals in all competitions as he closes in on the club record of 235 scored by Cesar Rodriguez between 1942-55.

"(Messi) doesn't talk a lot, he does his talking on the pitch," Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. "To be just seven goals away from the club's top scorer is amazing. It is crazy what this guy does."

More than ever, Barcelona needs Messi to keep up his record-breaking form. Pep Guardiola's side is 10 points adrift of league leader Real Madrid, which has a chance to extend its lead further when it visits Real Betis a day before its rival plays.

"We will try to make up the point difference with Madrid," Xavi said. "But it doesn't only depend on us, it also depends on the leader."

The 24-year-old Messi's scoring feast against Leverkusen took his Champions League career goal haul to 49, equaling Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano as joint-fourth on the all-time European Cup scorers' list.

"At the end of the game I had to ask him if he had scored four or five goals," said Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes. "The truth is that he gets better with each passing season and he will continue making history because he doesn't tire. He is a constant reference in attack, he always gets involved and is unpredictable with the ball.

"We are lucky to have him with us."

Barcelona will also have to overcome a depleted defensive line with center back Gerard Pique suspended and the club waiting to see if Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol can return from the injured list in time.

Unfortunately for Racing, the northern Spanish team looks ripe for another Messi master class.

The financial troubled club let go its second coach of the season when it fired Juan Jose Gonzalez earlier this week after a seven-game winless streak left the team three points from safety. Gonzalez had taken over from Hector Cuper last fall. The team is now in the hands of coaching duo Fede Castanos and Pablo Pinillos.

In Seville, Madrid will try to celebrate its recent 110th anniversary with an 11th straight league victory as it looks to pull away in the title chase that it has lost for the last three seasons to Barcelona.

Madrid thrashed Betis 4-1 in their first meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu thanks to a hat trick by striker Gonzalo Higuain, and the Argentina international will likely start again for Madrid as Karim Benzema recovers from injury.

Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, will seek to add to his league-leading tally of 30 goals and stay on track to break his own league record of 40 from last season.

"Very few teams know how to stop Real Madrid," Betis defender Antonio Amaya said. "We have to be very focused and press them for 90 minutes. They play in another league, but it is also true that we will play without fear in our stadium with our fans. We will give them a scare."

Levante visits Malaga on Saturday in a fight for Spain's final Champions League spot.

Levante currently holds fourth place, one point clear of Malaga and Athletic Bilbao, which plays Osasuna on Sunday.

Also on Saturday, last-place Zaragoza has a must-win game at Real Sociedad to keep alive its slim hopes of avoiding the drop, while Sevilla is at Sporting Gijon.

Also on Sunday, it's: Valencia vs. Mallorca, Atletico Madrid vs. Granada, and Espanyol vs. Rayo Vallecano.

Getafe travels to Villarreal on Monday to close round 26.