Barcelona master Lionel Messi scores his 50th goal of 2019

Argentine forward reaches landmark for sixth consecutive season

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Lionel Messi ended 2019 with a total of 50 goals for club and country for the sixth consecutive time as he helped Barcelona stay on top of the Spanish league.

Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Arturo Vidal also scored as Barca defeated Alaves 4-1 on Saturday to open a three-point lead over second-place Real Madrid before their match with Athletic Bilbao on Sunday night.

Barcelona found the goals easier to come by following the drab goalless draw with Real in the first clasico of the season in midweek.

“We played only a few days ago, we were a bit tired, but we played a good match,” Griezmann said. “Now we get some deserved time off. We will try to get better when we come back. We can still improve."

It is the ninth year Messi has finished with at least 50 goals overall for club and country - 45 of them in 2019 for Barcelona and five for Argentina. He reached the mark every year since 2010, with the exception of 2013 when he scored 45. His highest total was 91 goals in 2012.

“He gives us a great advantage,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “Leo can suddenly show up and score out of nowhere like that.”

Messi's 50th goal came with a beautiful strike from outside the area in the 69th minute after being set up by Suarez.

The goal allowed Messi to overtake Real's Karim Benzema as the league's top scorer with 13 goals, one more than the Frenchman.

Suarez had a role in all four goals at the Camp Nou, scoring his own from a penalty in the 75th minute. The Uruguay striker also set up Griezmann's opener in the 14th minute and Vida on half time.

Alaves, winless in four consecutive league matches, scored with a Pere Pons header in the 56th minute.

“We knew it was difficult to earn points here,” Pons said. “At one point we controlled possession and created some good chances, but in the end we were playing against Barca and against Messi, it's complicated.”