On Saturday night Ronaldo scored league hat-trick number 23 to become the player with most La Liga trebles in history. But on Sunday night Messi scored his 29th hat-trick in all competitions to go past Alfredo Di Stefano and leave himself with only Telmo Zarra’s 31 hat-trick haul to beat.
Messi’s magic covered a multitude of first-half sins for Barca. They fell behind and made hard work of getting back into the game but the Argentine turned the match on its head with goals either side of the break.
His all-round performance completely contradicted that of a man who was ‘bored’, something former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes felt about the Argentine.
”When I try to find a way of summarising the attitude of the team, I keep alighting on the word ‘bored.’ And above all, Messi. In him, as much as anyone, I detected that mood of boredom,’ Scholes wrote in his column for The Independent.
‘He has never been a player given to chasing the full-back when his team lose the ball, but now, more than ever, he keeps his movement to an absolute minimum.’
His second goal was set up by Luis Suarez. But it was another frustrating night for the former Liverpool striker who was taken off in the second half and is yet to break his league or Nou Camp duck.
Barcelona fell behind on 13 minutes when Sergio Busquets dawdled in possession and was robbed by Felipe Caciedo. The Ecuadorian, once on Manchester City’s books, played in Sergio Garcia and the former Spain international did the rest.
He still had plenty of ground to cover but made it to the edge of the penalty area unchallenged and buried his shot past Claudio Bravo. Despite being a veteran of this fixture it was his first goal against Barca and no more than the visitors deserved.
Barcelona were offering very little at the end other end with slow, sideways, static football making no inroads against a stubborn Espanyol defence. It was left to Messi to have the best chance of the first half and then right on half time get the equalizer.
First he crashed a free-kick on to the cross bar from the edge of the area as Barcelona at least began to work visiting keeper Kiko Casilla. Luis Suarez dragged a shot wide after Xavi had laid the ball off to him and Jordi Alba also forced a save from Casilla.
Espanyol were not only defending solidly but also looked capable of scoring a second goal and when Victor Sanchez raced away on to a Canas pass he had only Claudio Bravo to beat but he over run the ball and the Chilean keeper smothered his shot.
Just as it seemed Barca would be walking off to the sound of whistles and jeers Messi found the back of the net with a curling shot from the edge of the area. It was a rare show of understanding between Barcelona players – Jordi Alba, Suarez and Xavi exchanged passes and Messi did the rest.
The Argentine continued from where he left off after the break with the goal that put Barça ahead. Neymar played in Suarez and he set up Messi. His first touch seemed to take the ball away from him but he burst forward to finish past Casilla.
Gerard Pique then headed in a Rakitic set-piece– Barcelona’s first from a corner in the league this season and with Espanyol now all at sea Suarez must have thought he would get his debut goal at his new stadium, but the number nine board was brought off on 70 minutes.
He looked on from the touchline as his replacement Pedro then scored from a long pass out of defence from Alba and then set up Messi for his third goal of the night.
The 29th hat-trick of Messi’s career sent Barça fans home happy but they will know against tougher opposition they will not get away with such a poor first half – Paris Saint-Germain will test them on Wednesday as the pair play-off for top spot in their Champions League group.