Messi shows who's in charge at 'clasico' against Madrid

MADRID (AP) " Lionel Messi took off his shirt and lifted it high in front of him, boldly displaying his name and number to the stunned crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

He stood there for a few seconds, staring at the fans, as if making sure they knew who was really in charge.

Messi had just scored a last-minute goal that gave Barcelona a crucial 3-2 come-from-behind victory against Real Madrid, putting the Catalan club back in the Spanish league title race and adding to his dominance in the "clasico."

There's been no one better than Messi when the two Spanish powerhouses meet. He now has 23 goals in games between the two clubs, five more than Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano and eight more than Cristiano Ronaldo.

While Ronaldo faltered throughout Sunday's game at the Bernabeu, failing to score goals that could have given his team a commanding lead over its rival in the league standings, Messi came through for Barcelona once again.

He also scored the team's first goal, helped set up the second by Ivan Rakitic and drew the foul that led to a red card for Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, leading Barcelona to a victory that reignited its chances of winning a third straight league trophy.

"Leo's greatness is that he keeps surprising us," Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta said. "After years and years, he continues to be decisive. For us, it's an honor to play with him. And for the club, it's a blessing. We have to try to keep up with him as much as possible so we can all play well and stay in contention in La Liga, which is wide open."

Messi's late winner allowed Barcelona to tie Madrid on 75 points at the top of the Spanish league standings with five rounds to go. Barcelona has the lead on the head-to-head tiebreaker, but Madrid still has a game in hand, at Celta Vigo.

"Messi was decisive, as always he always is," Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen said. "He makes the difference. There is not a lot to talk about him. He is a very special player."

Messi is enjoying another remarkable season, with 47 goals in 46 games. He has scored 14 goals in his last 10 Spanish league games, and is the competition's leading scorer with 31 goals, seven more than teammate Luis Suarez and 12 more than Ronaldo.

Messi had been going through a scoring drought in the "clasico", unable to find the net in six straight games. The last time he had scored against Madrid was with a hat trick at the Bernabeu in a 4-3 win in the league in 2014.

Playing with a bloodied mouth after a collision with Madrid left back Marcelo, Messi ended the drought by clearing two defenders with a run inside the area before sending a low shot past Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the first half at the Bernabeu.

His second goal decided the game, a left-footed shot from the top of the area with 12 seconds left in stoppage time after a low pass by Jordi Alba.

Messi's celebration, parading his shirt, sparked a fierce reaction from many Madrid fans on the stands behind the goal, where only a few people wearing Barcelona colors could be seen. The visitors' section was behind that same goal, but in the opposite side of where Messi ran to celebrate. Messi eventually was shown a yellow card for taking off his shirt.

The two goals on Sunday gave the 29-year-old Messi a total of 500 for his career with Barcelona, the most of any other player who has ever played for the club.

"Leo's 500th goal had to be special, just like he is," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. "I hope he will only retire several years from now."

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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