LNTUP

FC Barcelona thrash Espanyol 5-0 to win the Catalan Derby

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Lionel Messi scored the 38th hat trick of his Barcelona career as Ernesto Valverde’s side thrashed Espanyol 5-0 in Saturday’s Catalan derby at the Camp Nou.

Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez were also on target as Barca maintained their perfect start to the season, moving four points ahead of Real Madrid, who were held by Levante earlier in the day.

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Messi opened the scoring in the 25th minute, although replays showed the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was in an offside position when he received Ivan Rakitic’s pass.

There was little else to question in a majestic display from Barca’s talisman, who twice made the most of expert service from Jordi Alba to claim the matchball in the 67th minute – goals 17 and 18 against Espanyol in the top flight.

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There were some dicey moments for Valverde’s men at the back but the Camp Nou faithful were able to lap up Ousmane Dembele’s second half debut with the points safe, even if chants calling for the resignation of club president Josep Maria Bartomeu tempered a goal-laden finale.

Club-record signing Dembele set up Luis Suarez to complete the scoring after Gerard Pique headed a fourth from Ivan Rakitic’s 87th-minute corner and Real Madrid’s 1-1 draw at home to Levante earlier on Saturday means Barca hold a four-point advantage over the champions after three matches.

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Earlier, Ernesto Valverde made two changes to the Barcelona side that started the victory against Alaves just before the international break, with Nelson Semedo and the fit-again Luis Suarez coming into the starting line-up to replace Aleix Vidal and Sergi Roberto.

Meanwhile, Espanyol boss Quique Sanchez Flores made four alterations to the team that featured in their last outing, with Javi Lopez, Naldo, Jose Jurado and Hernan Perez making way for Victor Sanchez, Mario Hermoso, Papakouli Diop and Sergi Darder.

Barcelona started the match with some beautiful passing and it didn’t take them too long to wreak havoc on the Espanyol defenders. In the second minute, a delightful cross into the box from Andres Iniesta managed to pick out Gerard Deulofeu, who pulled off a clever run towards goal but couldn’t shoot.

After spending nine minutes on the back foot, Espanyol were finally able to push forward on their first attack of the game. Victor Sanchez burst down the right wing and then tried to pick out Pablo Piatti, but his pass forward was poorly hit and rolled out for a goal-kick instead.

Meanwhile, Barcelona kept patiently knocking the ball around inside the Espanyol half of the pitch as they tried to find a way through on goal.

The first real opportunity to score came tumbling down in Barça’s path. In the fifteenth minute, Messi’s deep, looping cross picked up Suarez at the far post, who nodded it towards Rakitic. Rakitic went close to meeting it but was cut out at the vital moment.

Barcelona made all the early running but suffered a scare in the 21st minute.
Sergio Busquets was deservedly booked for cynically pulling back Leo Baptistao after his slack pass threatened to give the Espanyol forward a route to goal.

The opener arrived from the expected source but Messi should have been flagged offside before controlling Rakitic’s immaculate pass, cleverly turning David Lopez and rifling into the top corner.

The Argentine picked up the ball inside the right-hand side of the Espanyol box and immediately skipped past two defenders. He showcased lovely skill to get the better of the two players, and he then blasted a rocket of a shot straight past Pau from close range.

Rakitic did well to pick out Messi with a clever pass into the heart of the Espanyol penalty area, but the Argentine was at least a yard offside. The visitors were not happy with that, as it’s a poor decision that went against them.

A sublime second almost arrived in the 31st minute – Rakitic adding further to an accomplished showing by gliding towards the box and exchanging passes with Messi to draw a superb save from Pau Lopez.

Espanyol’s first real chance to score came in the 34th minute, when Gerard Moreno looked set to test Ter Stegen from close range as he tried to latch onto a delightful cross in from Piatti, but Semedo did really well to get a toe onto the ball to poke it behind for a corner.

Valverde’s men did not have to wait long to double their advantage as Alba drove an attack from his own half, reacted quickly to a ricocheted return pass from Messi and set up the superstar forward to slot home. Alba did well to latch onto the bouncing ball before cutting it back to Messi, but Barcelona certainly were lucky, as the ball could have deflected anywhere. In the end, it fell kindly to the left-back.

Rakitic had a great chance to make it 3 for Barça when a swinging corner flew straight onto the head of Rakitic, who rose high above his marker, but couldn’t get the better of Pau in the middle of the goal.

Far from fearing an imminent humiliation, Espanyol gamely responded and Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was grasping at air when Pablo Piatti’s strike cannoned back off the post two minutes before half-time.

Suarez, who was back in the Barcelona line-up despite an injury scare while on international duty, fluffed a shot from Gerard Deulofeu’s cross and was denied by Pau at close quarters early in the second period.

In the 48th minute, Deulofeu cut inside from the right wing on a wonderful run as he easily sprinted into the Espanyol box. He then set up Suarez to shoot, but the Uruguayan completely missed the ball. The striker was able to have another chance to strike, however, and this time he managed to latch onto a low cross from Alba. His effort was brilliantly saved by Pau, however, with the goalkeeper excellently stopping Barcelona from making it 3-0.

A mix-up between Ter Stegen and Alba almost gave Espanyol a lifeline in the 51st minute but Piatti’s lofted shot bounced just wide.

Suarez’s trials continued as he looped an attempt on to the roof of the net having been set up by Messi – both forwards jogged back into position wearing rueful smiles.

Espanyol were being outplayed but retained a sporadic threat, with a combination of Pique and Samuel Umtiti diverting Baptistao’s 61st-minute shot behind.

Messi wrapped up his hat-trick in the 67th minute when the Argentine linked up with Suarez and set up the latter to shoot, but he was closed down well by Lopez and couldn’t get the better of the midfielder. Instead, the Uruguayan poked the ball back to Alba, who quickly teed up Messi to easily beat Pau with a lovely low strike.

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It was then time for Dembele’s triumphant arrival, with fellow new arrival Paulinho on his way shortly afterwards.
Dembele’s every touch was cheered and he responded by tearing away from an embattled backline to let Suarez end his personal misery, Pique having revelled in piling further derby misery upon Espanyol shortly beforehand.

Barcelona has a close shave in the 82nd minute when Didac unleashed a rocket of a shot from just outside of the Barcelona penalty area that looked set to find the back of the net, but Ter Stegen pulled off a wonderful diving save to deny him.

Pique headed home in the 87th minute to make it 4-0 for Barça. Rakitic’s cross in from the corner was a great one and picked out Pique, who rose high above Mario Hermoso and managed to easily beat Pau with his downward header on the edge of the six-yard box.

The party at Camp Nou was not over yet as Suarez chipped in to make it 5-0 for Barça in the last minute of regular time.

Dembele broke down the right wing and quickly sent an excellent pass into the box and over to Saurez, who met it well and easily beat Pau with a brilliant low finish into the far corner of the net.

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The France youngster is at Barcelona to target the summit of the world game and needed to look no further than the match-winner playing inside him to see exactly what that looks like.

Barcelona’s 100% record remained intact, and tonight’s comfortable win has sent them back to the top of the table, two points clear of Sevilla. They were always on the front foot and never looked like losing, with Messi easily managing to wrap up a well-deserved hat-trick with three excellently taken goals. Pique and Suarez then joined in on the fun to pile more misery on an Espanyol side that battled hard but eventually came up short.