A Lionel Messi masterclass, which saw him score two free-kicks, was enough to see off Espanyol in a fairly uncompetitive Barcelona derby on Saturday night.
Espanyol 0-4 Barcelona: match report
Lionel Messi was excluded from the Ballon d'Or's top three for the first time since 2006 during the week when he finished fifth at the ceremony in Paris. But on Saturday, he announced himself as an early favourite for next year's award with a particularly dazzling performance in a career filled with dazzling performances.
Not that anyone in Barcelona was doubting who the top dogs were in the city but Espanyol had crept their way into top four contention after a swift but lithe shift up LaLiga's rankings under Rubi. They went from fighting for attention under Quique Sanches Flores to fighting for Europe in just under four months with their new manager and new found ambition.
Against Barcelona, however, they were outclassed almost from the start due to a mixture of Lionel Messi having a point to prove and a tactical tweak that saw them favour their wide areas in the hope they could shake something lose with repeated counters on the left and right hand side of the field. That is not what transpired.
They looked good for the opening few minutes and even after Lionel Messi scored the most elegant of free-kicks in the top corner of Diego Lopez' net. But Messi got a taste for goals after that 17th minute strike and he was unstoppable after that. He played the ball through to Ousmane Dembele after an outrageous game of keep ball in the middle against what looked like 14 blue and white jerseys. He somehow activated his peripheral vision to spot Ousmane Dembele and forced him into action with his eyes before punching a perfectly weighted pass into his path on the left hand side.
Dembele cut inside and curled home with Diego Lopez suffering from a flashback of the earlier goal by Messi. He reached his arm out but it was useless. Barcelona were up by two and there was no turning back.
With their eyes and minds on half-time and a rest from Messi's genius, Espanyol were stung again. Luis Suarez strode forward and sent a ball over the line from the most improbably of angles as Diego Lopez was left red-faced at his near post.
Whatever flicker of hope existed before that finish, it no longer existed.
Espanyol did improve in the second half but a combination of good defending from Barcelona, over elaboration in the box by Espanyol and the fear of Messi humiliating them further meant they never really looked like getting back into the game.
Despite having a quieter second half, Messi still popped up with another goal from a set-piece after 65 minutes. This time he sent it over the wall and crashing to the net from 35 yards out as Diego Lopez was now sure he was suffering some sort of repetitive torture by the football gods. Espanyol fans must have felt the same and that didn't get any better on 71 minutes.
Oscar Duarte thought he had pulled one back when he got a foot to a free-kick delivered into the box but he was ruled offside by VAR after a lengthy look by the referee.
Borja Iglesias never stopped trying and Sergio Garcia added a change of speed to their attack in the middle with a couple of nice runs at the heart of Barcelona's defense but they just couldn't break them down.
With Spurs on the horizon, Barcelona got a chance to ease off as the game progressed but as for Espanyol's future, they face Betis and Atlético Madrid before Christmas break with Rubi surely now looking over his shoulder after this fourth loss on the trot. He will argue, however, that stopping Messi in the form he displayed at the RCDE on Saturday night is impossible. And he has a point.
Espanyol vs Barcelona live online: match updates
90'+6' GAME OVER!
90'+6' What a waste of a free.
90'+5' Sergio Garcia fouled by Vidal. Last chance saloon here for Espanyol.
90'+4' Munir with an effort. Deflected and saved.
90'+2' Five minutes of added time actually.
90'+1' Another chance for Espanyol and Iglesias sees it blocked. Then they miss the follow-up.
89' The free is sent in and it's headed tamely into Ter Stegen.
89' Vidal takes Sergio Garcia down as he moves in on the penalty area. Free for Espanyol in a dangerous area.
88' Vidal flies in with the diving header but he can't even get the tip of his mohawk on it. Offside, it looks like, and Espanyol survive again.
87' Barcelona take off up the field fairly lively but there's a free as Coutinho is caught.
87' Another counter.
86' Baptistao with an effort from outside the box. He curls an out-swinger but it takes a deflection and it's out for a corner.
85' Barcelona threaten again but the ball clipped in from the left.
84' Corner for Barcelona late on.
80' Iglesias makes it back to cut out a pass by Messi into Coutinho. Another perfect pass by Messi.
78' Messi just unstoppably today. Fairly, that is. Vila stopped him that time but he pulled him back. Free and yellow.
76' Quite the delay there. As we were.
74' OFFSIDE! He was offside as judged by the referee.
74' More than just a wee look at this stage. He is really having a good look here.
71' A quick look from VAR. He might have been offside.
71' GOAL! Duarte gets his foot on a cross and knocks it home. GAME ON!? Maybe? No.
71' Espanyol just can't break down Barcelona's defense. They've had loads of possession in this half but not nearly as clinical as Barca.
69' Another chance. Coutinho sends it towards goal and it's saved. vidal knocks it back towards the middle and Messi heads it back at Lopez. Saved.
68' Dembele replaced by Coutinho.
68' Ball crossed in low to Borja Iglesias and that's knocked just wide.
66' Really hopeful strike from Marc Roca. Straight into Ter Stegen's arms.
62' WHAT A GOAL! YET AGAIN! Free-kick over the wall and that's 4-0.
62' Luis Suarez fouled now and Messi with another chance for a free.
62' Another change for Espanyol. Melendo off for Sergio Garcia.
62' Messi fouled now by Didac Vila.
62' They put together a nice couple of passes but the final pass is too heavy for Borja Iglesias.
62' Marc Roca whips one across the field. Espanyol being forced back the field.
60' Hernan Perez off for Leo Baptistao.
59' Espanyol straight up the other end and Perez with a strike after recieving the ball from Iglesias. Saved by Ter Stegen.
58' Dembele clear through on goal, cuts inside and misses the chance to strike. He plays to Messi and he shoots into Lopez' legs.
57' And that's another corner.
57' Dembele with a foul on Lopez but it was very soft, it looked like.
56' It's actually Suárez. He fires it straight at the wall.
55' Messi caught on the ankle as two Espanyol defenders collapse around him. He gets up and looks to be okay.
53' Really dangerous corner and it's headed out. Comes straight back in with a volley but that's a mile wide.
52' Javi Lopez with a cross and it's blocked by Alba. Corner.
52' Another nice move inside the box and the cross is over everyone. Iglesias makes it to the ball before it goes out and Espanyol recycle it.
51' Espanyol's patience pays off and Perez wins it back before sending in a cross. Cleared.
51' Barcelona just taking the steam out of this one for now.
50' He should have just hit it.
50' Such a nice move from Espanyol and Borja backheels to Melendo. But Melendo does too much and loses it.
49' Dembele takes off up the field and Espanyol get it out for a throw.
48' The second to the front post and cleared.
46' A couple of early crosses for Espanyol. The first into Ter Stegen's hands.
46' They will give it a go though! The second half begins.
Tough to come back from this for Espanyol.
45' What a goal. How did he do that? Suarez with a run into no man's land. Espanyol have him well covered but he slots it under Diego Lopez from an almost impossible angle. 0-3 and that should be game over.
44' Another Espanyol attack foiled with a sloppy pass inside and that's picked off by Barcelona.
41' Ball in from the left and Hernan Perez heads that over.
40' Melendo inside to Vila and Vidal again cuts it out.
37' Rakitic drives forward and plays it to Dembele. He crosses and Rakitic heads into Lopez, it bounces up and Messi heads off the post. What a chance! That really should have been three.
36' Messi with the most perfect pass you'll see onto Suárez' foot. He misses as it hits the post. out for a corner.
35' Lovely ball clipped over the top by Victor Sanchez. Hernan Perez night have been able to get a foot to it but decides not to test his hamstring. Ter Stegen grabs it.
33' Sent in to the front post and it's headed wide.
33' Crossed in again and it's cleared by Jordi Alba. Some danger now from Espanyol, who were reeling after that goal.
32' Really nice cross and Duarte greets it at the back post. Headed down and Ter Stegen saves it.
30' Another corner sent in to the front post. Wide again. Another corner.
30' Corner for Espanyol. Headed out by Pique and just wide of his own goal! Another corner.
30' Messi with another outrageously good run up the field and he plays it to Suarez, who was offside.
29' Ball cut out by Vidal as Espanyol try to bring it up the field.
28' Espanyol getting a little bit snappy. Roca with a shot that flies over and isn't harming Ter Stegen's goal.
26' Barcelona keep up the pressure. Ball out to Dembele and he curls one beyond Lopez. 2-0. What a nice curled finish.
26' More pressure from Barcelona. Ball inside and the ball won sit down for him as he backheels it into his own ankle.
24' Dembele out to Alba and he cuts it inside to Suarez. He loses out though. Espanyol counter and Busquets gets back to cut that out. Lightening quick break from Melendo but nearly too quick as he didn't have anyone joining him.
22' Cross in from the right again from Hernan Perez. Victor Sanchez climbs to meet it and his header goes wide. Warning shot from Espanyol.
21' Barcelona press high up the field and win it back just outside Espanyol's penalty area. Messi plays it to Suarez and Diego Lopez saves with his legs from close range. Espanyol get another scare.
19' That has calmed Barcelona down now. Semedo fouled by Victor Sanchez as he caught the back of his leg.
18' Do yourselves a favour and find a replay of that goal. Just magnificent.
17' WHAT A GOAL! Messi. Free-kick and that is just unbelievable.
16' Messi fouled. That came after Melendo was tripped moving up the field and no free was give. Espanyol not happy with that one.
14' Alba inside to Messi and he sends in a first time pass. Headed out by Espanyol.
11' Danger from Barcelona. Dembele cross from the right nearly makes its way to Vidal but it's out for a corner.
10' Melendo with a nice move forward and he is picked off. Espanyol win it back again.
9' Barcelona with some decent possession but Espanyol win it back and counter! Hernan Perez to Borja and he absolutely fluffs that. Really nice move from the home side.
8' Three on three and Dembele plays to Messi but he is squeezed out of it.
7' Pique clears after Iglesias brings the ball up the field.
6' The home side have looked really comfortable on the ball in the opening minutes.
6' Dembele up the field and loses it before a collision in the air sees Espanyol win the free.
6' Hernan Perez with a cross and Lenglet clears. Nice cross as Borja Iglesias peels off him.
5' Messi with a nice combo with Suarez but Espanyol snuff it out and get the ball out to the left.
4' Ball cleared by Espanyol and Barcelona pick it back up again.
4' Pique to Lenglet and inside to Suarez. HEre's Messi for the first time.
3' Barcelona win it back and Semedo plays to Vidal and he is forced back.
2' Espanyol get the ball for the first time and move the ball forward. A foul by Vidal now.
2' Semedo with a foul early on as Victor Sanchez tries to step past him.
1' Barcelona in their weird pink strips. Looks strange but here we are. They're on the ball to start and the whistles for Pique begin.
1' We are underway in the derbi Barcelona.
0 wins, 4 draws and 14 losses in the last 18 league games for Espanyol against Barcelona. Can Rubi break that run? A dreadful run too.
A win of any scoreline will move Espanyol into fourth place. Regardless of the score tonight, Barcelona will finish top of the league this weekend.
Messi with no goal in two games against Atlético Madrid and Villarreal. He hasn't gone three without a goal in LaLiga this season. In other words, watch out!
Aspiazu, Valverde's technical assistant: Rubi has surprised us with his line-up. We thought he'd come out with Granero and he has bet on two fast wingers in Melendo and Hernán."
Valverde doesn't have too many options on the bench either with Malcom out injured until the new year too.
The big absence for Espanyol is Mario Hermoso. He hurt his knee and will be a massive miss with Luis Suárez to deal with tonight.
Seems Valverde knows how tought this is going to be tonight. He is ready for a "trial by fire".
Luis Suarez returns and Phillipe Coutinho left on the bench by Valverde tonight. Arturo Vidal gets the nod as he did against Atlético. He is the preferred option in these games that tend to be quite abrasive.
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Arturo Vidal, Messi, Luis Suárez, Dembelé
Espanyol XI: Diego López; Javi López, David López, Duarte, Didac Vilà; Hernán Pérez, Melendo, Víctor Sánchez, Roca, Darder; Borja Iglesias.
Hello and welcome to live online coverage of the Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barcelona. Kick-off from RCDE is at 20:45 CET!
Espanyol vs Barcelona live online: preview
RCDE is the venue for the Catalan derby and while the venue is home to Espanyol, they find themselves in an unusual spot in the league. They are fighting for Europe and could move into the Champions League spots once again if they can overcome a visiting Barcelona side on Saturday night with kick-off at 20:45 CET.
Rubi has Espanyol dreaming of Europe and they have a very genuine chance of turning Barcelona over on Saturday night. Those chances, however, took a massive hit when Mario Hermoso, his left-sided center back and the key to their defensive solidity, was ruled out at the last minute with a knee ligament sprain. He is also without Sergio García, Naldo but aside from that, keep an eye on Marc Roca to try and influence the game from midfield in the absence of Arthur for the blaugranas. Borja Iglesias is a surprisingly technical bruiser at center forward and should give Ernesto Valverde's two centre-backs plenty to consider. He has eight goals in 14 games this season.
Barcelona are without Arthur, Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Malcom, Sergi Samper, Rafinha but Luis Suarez returns after a layoff. Ousmane Dembele has been impressive in recent weeks as he slowly but surely wins the trust of his manager but a Cataln derby is no place to hide and if he can come through this test with an impressive performance, it might be a true launching pad as he has shown signs of his brilliance in recent weeks.