Messi scores twice in Barcelona routine wun

Lionel Messi
Messi has scored 16 direct free-kick goals since 2016-17, 10 more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues

Lionel Messi scored two goals and provided two assists as Barcelona thrashed Real Valladolid 5-1 to return to the top of La Liga.

Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet drove in an early goal before Kiko bundled in for Valladolid.

Arturo Vidal poked in from Messi’s pass to restore Barcelona’s lead before the Argentine curled in a superb free-kick – the 50th such goal of his career.

“There were wonders coming out of his foot,” said Valladolid’s Michel.

“You can only applaud and enjoy it.”

There was more Messi magic to come in the second half as he superbly controlled an Ivan Rakitic ball with one touch before powering a fierce drive into the back of the net with another.

He then completed his fine performance by slipping a ball through the defence for Luis Suarez to sweep in his side’s fifth.

Barcelona were not in action at the weekend after their game with Real Madrid was postponed because of safety fears surrounding the ongoing protests in Catalonia.

The two teams line up as fans display an Independencia banner prior to the game

That allowed Granada, who had only returned to the top flight this season, the opportunity to instead become the Spanish top flight’s unlikely leaders as they beat Real Betis 1-0.

Barcelona needed to win to reclaim top spot, which they did in impressive style with Messi at his scintillating best.

Earlier, Atletico Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Alaves.

Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff started the season ranked well outside the Top 600, she will move inside the top 75 after the win

Teenager Coco Gauff has become the youngest player to win a WTA title in 15 years with victory in the Linz Open.

“It has been an amazing week, I hope to come back here again. I will remember this moment for the rest of my life,” said Atlanta-born Gauff.

The youngster, who rose to fame at Wimbledon this year when she beat five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round, emulates Nicole Vadisova, who was 15 when she won her maiden WTA title in Tashkent in 2004.

Gauff held off two break points in her opening service game before breaking Ostapenko in the next to take control of the opening set.

However, 22-year-old Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, hit back in the second set, breaking Gauff three times before levelling the match with an ace.

The teenager rallied in the decider though, breaking twice to lead 5-0. However, Ostapenko saved two match points and then broke Gauff to love to trail 5-2.

Her father and coach, Corey Gauff, then came onto court to give his daughter some encouragement. He said: “Just relax, you’re not going to sprint to the finish line, you’re going to walk to the finish line.

“Trust your shots. Calm down, take your mind to another place, to a practice match. Just play, don’t think about negatives just think about positives. Yesterday if you know you had 5-2 you’d take that, you’re in control.”

She immediately broke back, winning the match and title when Ostapenko sent a forehand long.

“Thank you so much to my family and team for their support, you are always with me every step of the way,” she said.

Wales 13-6 England: Wales top world with England revenge win

World Cup warm-up: Wales v England
Wales (10) 13
Try: North Pens: Biggar, Halfpenny Con: Biggar
England (0) 6
Pens: Ford 2

Wales will rise to the top of the world rankings for the first time after they ground out a 13-6 victory over England in the World Cup warm-up in Cardiff.

Man of the match Dan Biggar was a rock in both defence and attack for Wales

Biggar inspires Wales improvement

By making only three changes to the team that lost 33-19 to England at Twickenham last Sunday, Gatland said he was giving his players the chance to “redeem” themselves in Cardiff.

And while this Wales side is still evidently a work in progress where the World Cup is concerned, this was a marked improvement.

Whereas they were 14 points down in as many minutes at Twickenham, Wales wrestled their way into a position of strength at the Principality Stadium.

Their scrum may have still creaked a little against a powerful England pack, but in Biggar they had a fly-half made for these tight encounters – and perhaps with a point to prove after former British and Irish Lions wing JJ Williams claimed Wales would not win the World Cup with the Northampton man at 10.

Biggar was starting as a result of fellow fly-half Gareth Anscombe’s tournament-ending knee injury and he peppered England’s back three with an early bombardment of high balls that was a taste of things to come.

Leigh Halfpenny was a late pre-match change for Wales at full-back for the injured Liam Williams
Leigh Halfpenny was a late pre-match change for Wales at full-back for the injured Liam Williams

When England wing Anthony Watson was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on, Biggar – whose earlier penalty had put Wales 3-0 up – sensed an opportunity from the resultant penalty and took it quickly.

His long cross-field kick found Josh Adams and, after the wing made ground, from the next phase Biggar repeated the trick to set up North in the opposite corner for a fine try that the fly-half converted for a 10-0 lead.

There were precious few opportunities for Biggar to demonstrate such creativity in a second-half in which both attacks were frustrated by disciplined defences.

He did, however, show his appetite for the physical side of the game, stopping galloping England lock Maro Itoje with a shuddering tackle that might have been called high had referee Pascal Gauzere reviewed the footage.

But the intervention illustrated Biggar’s willingness to put his body on the line for his country and sealed his deserved man-of-the-match award.

England fail to ignite

While Wales’ players were still auditioning for a place in their final World Cup squad – expected to be named on 1 September – England coach Eddie Jones has already decided on his 31-man party for Japan.

There was therefore less on the line for them in Cardiff perhaps, but there was no lack of motivation, with Jones imploring his side to be “absolutely brutal” in their attempts to halt Wales’ 10-match winning run at home that stretches back to a defeat against New Zealand in 2017.

The likes of Billy Vunipola certainly heeded that call, the man mountain of a number eight bulldozing towards Welsh tacklers at every opportunity.

England's Billy Vunipola is stopped by the Wales defence
Billy Vunipola offered his usual physical presence from number eight – but it was not enough for England

But England struggled to cut through the opposition defence as they did at Twickenham and, while the scrum remained a weapon, their driving maul was less of a threat.

Neither side was at its fluent best in attack and it was not until Watson’s yellow card left England a man down that the visitors found their defence meaningfully breached.

The Principality Stadium crowd found its voice after North’s try but, despite that setback, Jones’ men gathered themselves and chipped away at Wales’ advantage in the second-half.

Ford, keeping the kicking duties despite the introduction of Owen Farrell at centre, struck two penalties to reduce England’s deficit to 10-6.

There was no way through Wales’ determined defence though as England failed to replicate their attacking precision from Twickenham and missed out on their own opportunity to top the world ranking.

Wales: L Halfpenny; North, Jonathan Davies, Parkes, Adams; Biggar, G Davies; Smith, Owens, Francis, Ball, AW Jones, Wainwright, James Davies, Moriarty.

Replacements: Dee, W Jones, Lewis, Shingler, Navidi, A Davies, Evans, Watkin.

England: Daly; McConnochie, Joseph, Francis, Cokanasiga; Ford, Heinz; Genge, Cowan-Dickie, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Ludlam, B Vunipola.

Replacements: George, Marler, Sinckler, Kruis, Singleton, Youngs, Farrell, Tuilagi

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October 2019