An otherworldly performance from Lionel Messi powered Barcelona to a 4-0 triumph over derby rivals Espanyol on Saturday night at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat in Barcelona.
The Argentine executed a pair of spectacular free kicks and also added an assist in what was a commanding performance from Barcelona, who remain atop the LaLiga table. Ousmane Dembele was the beneficiary of the Messi assist, while Luis Suarez also returned from injury to get on the scoresheet.
Perhaps it was the recent inflammatory comments from Pele or his incredulous fifth-place finish in Ballon d’Or voting, but certainly Messi was playing with some extra vigor against the crosstown rivals. His first free-kick goal was one of the finest football fans will ever see, while his dogged determination to set up Dembele’s goal was sublime. By the end of it, it was completely conceivable that Messi could have had at least four or five goals on the night.
Barcelona manager Ernest Valverde raised eyebrows with his starting XI, as Philippe Coutinho was relegated to the bench and replaced by Dembele. Meanwhile, Arturo Vidal continued to benefit from Arthur’s absence as the Chilean enjoyed his fourth start in five matches.
It was a typically feisty start between the two teams, with Espanyol looking to hit Barcelona on the counter, while being physical any time Messi was over the ball. One such challenge earned the Argentine a free kick, and with one sweet left-footed stroke Messi curled a sensational shot into the top left corner past Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez for a 0-1 lead.
The Espanyol defence continued to hound him any time he had the ball, but Messi would not be denied and twice after being knocked down, he battled to keep possession before finding Dembele, who curled in a beautiful right-footer to double the Barcelona lead to 0-2.
Messi continued to play the role of playmaker and set up Luis Suarez perfectly for a third but the Uruguayan scuffed his effort off the post. The woodwork would rescue Espanyol moments later when Messi hit a header off the post just seconds after Diego Lopez saved a point-blank header from Ivan Rakitic.
After some earlier misses Suarez would finally come good, as he snuck in Barcelona’s third of the night by receiving a pass from Dembele and shooting from the slimmest of angles through the legs and off the back foot of Diego Lopez for the goal and a 0-3 advantage.
Espanyol came out of the half-time dressing room playing a far more positive brand of football, but there was nothing they could do to stop Messi on this day. The Pulga would deliver again with another curling left-footed free kick that went whistling past Diego Lopez to make it 0-4.
From there the only question was whether Espanyol would grab or a consolation goal or if Messi would add to his impressive tally. In the end neither happened, as Barcelona saw things out without incident to pocket yet another derby victory.
0- Espanyol: Diego Lopez; Javi Lopez, David Lopez, Duarte, Didac Vila; Marc Roca, Darder (Granero, min. 74), Victor Sanchez; Hernan Perez (Baptistao, min. 59), Melendo (Sergio Garcia, min. 63), Borja Iglesias.
4.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Rakitic (Denis Suarez, min. 82), Arturo Vidal; Messi, Suarez (Munir, min. 79), Dembele (Coutinho, min. 68).
Goals: 0-1, min. 17: Messi; 0-2, min. 26: Dembele; 0-3, min. 45: Suarez; 0-4, min. 65: Messi
Referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande (Madrid). Yellow Cards: Didac (Min. 79) Espanyol
Red cards: None
Stadium: Cornella-El Prat