Lionel Messi has done it all. Rarely do you see him do something for the first time. But one such occasion took place in Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium on Saturday night when the Argentine scored two direct free kicks in the same league game.
Both Ernesto Valverde and Rubi had described the Barcelona Derby as ‘equally-matched’ before the two Catalan clubs faced each other, but when one team has Messi it’s far from fair. Despite failing to fill their stadium for the majority of the campaign, Espanyol have lost just once at home all season. That was until Messi, Suarez and Dembele, among others, produced an unstoppable team display accompanied by individual brilliance.
First, Messi curled a free-kick out of Diego Lopez’s reach – you literally couldn’t have placed it any better. Then Barça’s captain wriggled free from numerous defenders before cutting through the Espanyol backline with a pinpoint pass to Dembele. The Frenchman, who has often netted vital goals for the league leaders, swiveled inside and arched his shot into the far side of the goal. The hosts were begging for half time from about the 20th minute but Barcelona weren’t done yet.
Dembele played Suarez through on goal, but the Uruguayan’s touch took him wide and a finish from such a tight angle seemed impossible. However, the former Liverpool striker managed to squeeze his effort, with the help of the inside of the goalkeeper’s leg, into the back of the net. It wasn’t that Espanyol deserved to be 3-0 down at half time, their visitors were just too good for them. It was the most impressive 45-minute performance from any team across Spain this season.
A form of football match was contested in the second half but both teams knew the result was set in stone. The uneventful period was sprinkled with some dead-ball brilliance from Messi once more as he beat Lopez from a free-kick again. The former Real Madrid ‘keeper only dived half-heartedly yet desperately to his right-hand side but there was no stopping Messi. After Sevilla dropped points at Valencia earlier in the day, Barcelona took a three-point lead at the top of La Liga.
Real Madrid managed to avoid a repeat of their Eibar debacle on their first visit to top-flight rookies, Huesca. Gareth Bale’s sweet volley in the 8th-minute was enough to secure an unspectacular win for Santiago Solari. Sunday’s goals were all used up in Eibar’s incredible 4-4 draw with Levante at lunchtime with Madrid loanee Borja Mayoral grabbing the stoppage-time equaliser for the visitors from Valencia.
Real Sociedad and Villarreal both continued their poor form in front of their own fans – they’ve got just two home wins between them in La Liga this season. Villarreal’s defeat to Celta Vigo cost Javi Calleja his job, leaving the Yellow Submarine just a place above the relegation zone. The small matter of a ‘superclásico’ took place in Madrid on Sunday evening as the Copa Libertadores Final was finally played. River Plate won the football match and the trophy, but Argentina were the real losers in this situation. They had to watch their own event unfold in Europe, 10,000 miles away.