Lionel Messi scored two brilliant free-kicks as Barcelona opened up a three-point lead at the top of LaLiga after coasting to a 4-0 win at derby rivals Espanyol.
Following Sevilla’s 1-1 draw at Valencia, where the hosts hit a dramatic equaliser in stoppage time, Barcelona made no mistake at the RCDE Stadium, racing into a 3-0 lead by half-time.
Messi opened the scoring with a fine free-kick before Ousmane Dembele doubled the lead on 26 minutes and Luis Suarez scored from the tightest of angles just before half-time.
The Barcelona captain, who finished only fifth in this year’s Ballon d’Or vote, curled in another superb dead-ball strike on 65 minutes to cap a fine individual and team performance.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, whose side host Tottenham in their final Champions League group game on Tuesday night, had warned of a “trial by fire” in the build up to the derby fixture and things could have been different had Borja Iglesias not shot wide early on.
But, after 17 minutes, another moment of brilliance from Messi broke the deadlock.
Espanyol defender Oscar Duarte fouled the Barcelona playmaker 25 yards out in a central position. Messi got up to send the resulting free-kick over the wall and into the top right corner.
Goalkeeper Diego Lopez saved from Suarez, given the all-clear to play following a knee problem, as Barcelona looked to swiftly double their lead.
In a rare moment of action in the Barcelona penalty area, Victor Sanchez’s header dropped wide of the far post.
It was 2-0 on 26 minutes when Messi picked out Dembele in the Espanyol penalty area and the France international cut back inside to curl the ball past Lopez.
Espanyol looked for a way back in to the match as Duarte’s downward header at the far post was blocked by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Suarez struck a post before Ivan Rakitic saw his point-blank header saved, with Messi’s header from the rebound coming back off the other upright.
It was, though, 3-0 just before the break.
Suarez was sent away into the left side of the penalty area. The Uruguay forward held off defender David Lopez to somehow, from the tightest of angles, stab the ball between the legs of the goalkeeper and in off the far post.
Espanyol went looking for a lifeline at the start of the second half, but Barcelona remained dangerous on the break.
Dembele was sent clear before feeding Messi in a crowded Espanyol penalty area and his shot was blocked by Diego Lopez.
On 65 minutes, Messi made Espanyol pay again for another needless foul which gave away a free-kick 25 yards out, to the left of centre.
The Argentina forward dispatched another brilliant left-footed effort over the wall and into the top corner.
Barcelona were caught out at the back in the 74th minute when Duarte stabbed the ball in at close range from a free-kick.
However, following a lengthy review from the Video Assistant Referee, the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside.
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