Antoine Griezmann delivered a resounding message to Barcelona by scoring four goals against Leganes ahead of Atletico Madrid’s crunch match at the Nou Camp on Sunday.
Atletico and their French maestro will head to Catalonia brimming with confidence after subjecting lowly Leganes to a 4-0 demolition, with Griezmann again the star of the show.
His quadruple, fired off in 32 minutes either side of half-time, means he now has seven goals in two games, and 12 in his last nine. For comparison, Lionel Messi has hit five goals in the same period.
Atletico have also cut the gap at the top of La Liga to four points, before Barcelona play their game in hand at Las Palmas on Thursday. But Griezmann will be the player in focus before the weekend, his form handed extra pertinence given Barca were forced last month to deny they had already struck a deal to sign the 26-year-old.
After Zinedine Zidane paid the price for resting Cristiano Ronaldo in Real’s defeat to Espanyol on Tuesday, Diego Simeone chose not to preserve his own stars as Griezmann, Diego Costa and Angel Correa all started.
Both teams rounded the centre circle before kick-off for a minute’s silence in memory of Enrique Castro, the former Barcelona and Spain striker who died on Tuesday.
Leganes almost took an early lead when Gerard Gumbau’s long-range effort crashed against the crossbar and Griezmann would have been off the mark sooner had his bending free-kick not also struck the woodwork.
But the forward did not have long to wait. In the 25th minute, a defence splitting pass from Koke set Griezmann away and, after shrugging off the scrambling Gumbau, he slid the ball past Ivan Cuellar.
Ten minutes later Griezmann was celebrating his second. Again he had Koke to thank, the midfielder winning the foul after a brilliant flick on the edge of the area and this time Griezmann dispatched the free-kick with a curling shot into the corner.
Leganes’ early impetus was now extinguished and 10 minutes into the second half, Griezmann completed his hat-trick.
After nonchalantly allowing Costa’s pass to run through his legs and reach Filipe Luis, Griezmann darted into the box, jumped high and met the full-back’s cross with a bullet header into the net.
If his first three goals demonstrated speed, technique and movement, Griezmann’s fourth owed much to a slice of luck, a mishit finish from Costa’s cross. He could even have had a fifth late on, only for an offside flag to spare the weary Leganes further humiliation.