BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi scored twice in the space of three minutes to help Barcelona to a 5-0 win over Celta Vigo on Thursday as the holders advanced to the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.
Messi, who also created Barcelona’s third goal for Jordi Alba, set his team on its way to a 6-1 aggregate victory with his 21st and 22nd goals in all competitions this season.
Alba had provided the assists for Messi’s strikes in the 13th and 15th minutes, and the Barcelona star returned the favor by setting up the left back to score in the 28th.
Luis Suarez made it 4-0 before halftime, while Messi was replaced by Ousmane Dembele before the hour mark. Ivan Rakitic headed in a corner kick by Dembele in the final minutes to complete the rout.
New signing Philippe Coutinho watched from the Camp Nou stands following his club-record transfer from Liverpool earlier this week. The Brazil midfielder will make his debut after he recovers from a right leg muscle injury.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde took no chances after the 1-1 draw in the first leg, starting Messi in his first appearance in the competition this season after resting the Argentina forward for the first three cup games.
Messi quickly quashed any chance of Celta springing an upset.
Barcelona’s all-time scoring leader swept Alba’s cross past Sergio Alvarez despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to the ball, and he followed up by firing home after another exchange of passes with Alba.
Messi then turned provider, lobbing a perfect pass behind Celta’s back line to meet the run by Alba, who chipped Alvarez to score.
“The connection between Messi and Alba is nothing new, it has been working for years,” Valverde said. “They look for each other and are happy to do so, because it is not just Alba assisting Messi. Messi also creates goals for Alba.”
Suarez netted in the 31st after pouncing on a poor pass by Pione Sisto, before Rakitic nodded home at the end.
Barcelona extended its unbeaten run this season to 28 straight matches, dating back to its losses to Real Madrid in both legs of the Spanish Super Cup in August.
Celta had drawn 2-2 at Barcelona in La Liga last month and had gone into Thursday’s match after holding Madrid to a 2-2 draw in the league last weekend.
Sevilla beat Cadiz 2-1 with goals from Wissam Ben Yedder and Joaquin Correa to advance 4-1 on aggregate.
Making the last eight will take some of the pressure off new coach Vincenzo Montella following Sevilla’s painful 5-3 home loss to crosstown rival Real Betis in his Spanish league debut on Saturday.
Ben Yedder scored from a rebound after a shot by Correa to give Sevilla the lead in the 32nd. Correa then headed in from a corner taken by Pablo Sarabia in the 54th.
Alvaro Garcia got second-division Cadiz’s consolation goal in the 86th, leading to jeers from Sevilla’s home fans for the team’s shaky finish to the match.
“It was a complicated match. We are all suffering from the derby loss,” Correa said. “We are sad, but we will get through this together.”
Goals by forwards Leo Baptistao and Gerard Moreno helped Espanyol to a 2-0 victory at Levante, sending the Barcelona-based team through 3-2 on aggregate.
Moreno set up Baptistao in the 14th minute, before scoring his goal in the 34th.
MADRID (AP) — Two derbies feature in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, with Barcelona facing Espanyol and Real Madrid taking on Leganes.
The draw on Friday also pit Atletico Madrid against Sevilla, and Valencia against Alaves.
Three-time defending champion Barcelona will play the first leg against its crosstown rival at Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium next week. It will host the return match at Camp Nou Stadium the following week.
Madrid also gets to host the second leg at home when it faces Leganes, which is based in the city of the same name just south of the Spanish capital. Leganes is playing only its second season in the first division of Spanish football.
Atletico and Sevilla is the matchup of teams better positioned in the Spanish league. Atletico is second and Sevilla fifth.
Third-place Valencia faces an Alaves side which is in the relegation zone but last season made it to the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Roberto Firmino likely spoke for lots of Liverpool fans when he posted a message to Philippe Coutinho via Instagram following his fellow Brazilian’s move to Barcelona.
“Liverpool is no longer the same without you my magical brother,” Firmino wrote.
The club gained 160 million euros ($192 million) by selling Coutinho in a blockbuster transfer that was completed on Monday, but the team lost his long-range goals, his technical skills and close control, and his vision and passing range from central midfield.
Liverpool has to move on, and quickly: Manchester City — the unbeaten English Premier League leader — arrives at Anfield on Sunday, in the Reds’ first match without Coutinho as they battle for a finish in the Champions League qualification positions.
They occupy the fourth and final spot with 16 matches remaining and are on a 13-match unbeaten run in the league, but there is a danger the loss of Coutinho could derail them.
How will Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp ensure that doesn’t happen?
Klopp is fortunate in one respect that the departure of Coutinho has coincided with the return to fitness of attacking midfielder Adam Lallana, who has started Liverpool’s last two games after a long-term thigh injury. Lallana is still not fully up to speed but when he is, the England international is an important part of Liverpool’s team pressing, mobility, and ball-carrying in midfield.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another, albeit very different, option in midfield and is getting to grips with Liverpool’s style of play following his summer move from Arsenal.
In Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp has players who will offer less in attack than Coutinho but will work harder and allow Liverpool to retain a better defensive shape. This has been important in recent months for Klopp, who has made the team harder to beat since its collapse at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 22 in a 4-1 loss against Tottenham.
In the 13 league games since then, Liverpool has won nine and drawn the other four. It is on a 17-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Liverpool actually has a better win percentage without Coutinho than with him this season (66.70 percent from nine games he didn’t play, compared to 46.20 percent from 13 games he played), with the explosive front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Firmino still offering the team a threat up front.
Liverpool’s defensive resilience has been strengthened further by the arrival last week of center back Virgil van Dijk for $100 million, a world-record fee for a defender.
So, maybe a team known for its exhilarating attack under Klopp will actually become a more solid one with the absence of arguably its most flamboyant player. Liverpool has been linked with a move for Monaco’s Thomas Lemar and Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez as a replacement for Coutinho, but maybe there is no real necessity, especially with dynamic Guinea midfielder Naby Keita joining from Leipzig in the summer.
Asked about Keita amid speculation his move could be fast-tracked to this month, Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuettl said on Thursday: “The current situation is the same as it was all season — that there’s no reason for us to let Naby Keita go early.”
Coutinho has been a scourge of City in recent seasons, scoring winners at Anfield in 2014 and ’15, and being the driving force behind Liverpool’s thrilling 4-1 win over City at Etihad Stadium in November 2015.
City hasn’t triumphed at Anfield since Nicolas Anelka grabbed an injury-time winner against his former club in 2003, making Liverpool its hardest away trip in the Premier League.
A win or draw for Pep Guardiola’s side, which holds a 15-point lead, would remove the biggest remaining obstacle to an unbeaten league season that would match the achievement of Arsenal’s “Invincibles” from the 2003-04 season.
The absence of Coutinho this weekend will only help that quest.
WORLD SCORES: COURTESY OF LIVESCORE.COM