Lionel Messi hat trick sees Barcelona earn comeback win over Espanyol

15

Lionel Messi's hat trick sparked Barcelona into life as they came from behind to thrash Espanyol 5-1 in the Catalan derby on Sunday. A day after Cristiano Ronaldo set a new Primera Division record for hat-tricks with 23, Messi grabbed one of his own to move up to 21 himself and secure local bragging rights for Barca in Catalonia. Messi came to the rescue on the stroke of half-time to cancel out Sergio Garcia's opener for Espanyol, before adding his second five minutes later. Gerard Pique made it three goals in eight minutes to put Barca firmly in control before Pedro added gloss to the scoreline and Messi turned it into a rout. The win means that Barca, who also saw Real Madrid equal their record of 18 consecutive wins after their 3-0 triumph over Celta Vigo on Saturday, remain two points behind Los Blancos at the top of La Liga. Barca boss Luis Enrique, taking the helm for the first time in a Catalan derby, rested Andres Iniesta after his Copa del Rey excursions in midweek but otherwise selected a full-strength side. It was the hosts, who have not lost to Espanyol at the Nou Camp for five years, who took control early on. Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Xavi were passing it round confidently and Neymar looked lively, but the most they conjured was a half-hearted penalty appeal when Xavi took a tumble. But Espanyol, who are still searching for their first win away from home this season, silenced the Barca crowd with a stunning counter-attack in the 13th minute. Felipe Caicedo caught Busquets dallying in possession near the halfway line, before Barcelona academy graduate Garcia picked up the loose ball and raced into space down the right flank. As Pique backed off, the 31-year-old forward cut into the box and unleashed a powerful low drive that gave Barca keeper Claudio Bravo no chance. The hosts struggled to create openings, but Messi almost got them back on level terms when his sweetly struck free-kick clipped the crossbar just before the half-hour mark. On the stroke of half-time the Argentine went one better. Messi picked up Xavi's lay-off on the edge of the area and defied the crowd of bodies in front of him by hitting a superb swerving shot that just crept round them and in off Espanyol keeper Kiko Casilla's right-hand post. The hosts came out much stronger after the interval and five minutes into the second half another moment of sheer class from Messi put them in front. The 27-year-old controlled Luis Suarez's lofted pass exquisitely, before skipping past Juan Fuentes and hitting an inch-perfect effort beyond Casilla. Pique finished off the eight-minute blitz by taking advantage of Espanyol's slack marking to head home Rakitic's corner in the 53rd minute. Luis Suarez — who was so deadly in Merseyside derbies for Liverpool, scoring five in six games — was taken off in the 69th minute having barely had an impact on proceedings apart from his ball to Messi for the second goal. He was replaced by Pedro and the 27-year-old needed just eight minutes to announce himself on the occasion, sweeping the ball home after picking up a 50-yard diagonal ball from Jordi Alba. Pedro was involved again in a one-two move with Messi, who side-footed home to complete his hat trick and round off the win.