Espanyol have no answer to Messi masterclass
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
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.