It’s been said many times before – those waiting for Barcelona to fall apart will have to wait for Lionel Messi to retire first. The Argentinian scored a hat-trick as his team secured a 5-0 win over Espanyol and moved to the top of La Liga four points clear of Real Madrid.
Messi crossed the Atlantic to place for Argentina during the international break but it was the Espanyol defenders feeling groggy as he scored his third, fourth and fifth goals of the season. He has also hit the post four times and missed a penalty since this campaign began.
His third goal on the night came as club record signing Ousmane Dembele was waiting to come on. When the 20-year-old finally got to make his home debut he left his mark too setting up Luis Suarez for the fifth. Gerard Pique had scored the fourth and Barcelona been more than convincing winners.
There was a touch of good fortune about the first goal. It was a brilliant assist from Rakitic who shaped to shoot and instead played Messi through. He finished into the top left-hand corner of Pau Lopez’ net and his immediate reaction was to look across to the linesman. The referee’s assistant’s flag should have been raised because Messi had been offside when he received the ball, but the flag stayed down and the goal stood.
Rakitic and Iniesta combined brilliant again moments later and with a one-two on the edge of the box the Croatian could have scored but for Lopez’ fine save.
The second goal came ten minutes before half-time and it was Messi again. Jordi Alba raced forward down the left and exchanged passes with the Argentinian. There was a little good fortune again as the ball cannoned off an Espanyol defender into Alba’s pass but when he pulled it back for Messi he lashed it past Lopez before the keeper he could react.
Barcelona started the second half well. Gerard Deulofeu, who had kept his place ahead Dembele, showed strength and speed to get down the right. His cross went beyond everyone but was retrieved by Iniesta who flicked it to Alba. When the left back pulled it back, Suarez tried to flick it past Lopez but was denied. It had been a breathtaking move deserving of a goal.
Barcelona supporters were enjoying the football although that didn’t’ stop them from singing ‘Nobita resign’. Nobita being president Josep Bartomeu’s nickname. It was proof that the board are not going to get away with things just because the team are playing well.
Perhaps trying to do his boss a favour coach Ernesto Valverde told Dembele to warm-up and the Barcelona supporters turned their attention to him.
Espanyol kept looking for their first goal and Leo Baptistao forced Marc Andre ter Stegen into a fine save but it was to be Barça and Messi’s night and he completed his hat-trick with Dembele still waiting to come on.
Suarez selfishly held the ball up and played it out to Alba who crossed for Messi to finish. It wasn’t just about Messi. Pique got the fourth with a towering header from a corner and then Suarez deservedly got on the scoresheet after a precise assist from Dembele.
There was an intensity and compactness all over the pitch not seen in a while at the Camp Nou, and for all their summer troubles they find themselves top with maximum points after three games.