Messi shines as five-star Barcelona win again
Barcelona 5 – 2 Atletico Madrid
A scintillating first-half demolition of Atletico Madrid confirmed Barcelona’s status as firm favourites to retain the La Liga title and also emphasised the gulf in quality between the Catalan club and this season’s title pretenders.
Barca exploded from the blocks as Thierry Henry sent a 20-yard drive crashing against the underside of the bar within 60 seconds.
The home side needed just a further minute to open the scoring and it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic that finished a devastating three-pass counter attack.
Victor Valdes in the Barca goal sent the ball long into the feet of young Spaniard Busquets who slid the in-form Swede through on goal to flick the ball over the advancing goalkeeper and into the net with the outside of the right boot.
The summer arrival is fast becoming a favourite among the Camp Nou faithful with his third La Liga goal in as many games.
Barca came close to doubling their lead on seven minutes as Henry curled a ball in towards goal and past the static Atletico defence for Xavi to head tamely at Roberto in the opposition goal.
Ibrahimovic was next to produce an effort on goal after shifting to shoot from a tight angle, but Roberto was on hand to prevent the home side again.
The attacks kept coming and the lively Henry was again involved. His ball across goal caught Messi flat-footed at the far post and his close-range attempt was blocked.
It was only a matter of time before Barca bagged their second and this time Messi was far from flat-footed.
Xavi chipped a ball into the path of the dominative Argentine inside the box and he calmly feinted past the committed Roberto to tuck the ball home on 16 minutes.
Atletico’s first chance of the match fell to Maxi Rodriguez, but the winger failed to beat Valdes under pressure from Messi.
Maxi again had a chance to get his side back into it. An error by the unconvincing Chygryinskiy at the back allowed Maxi through on goal, but the Argentine wanted several touches before hitting wide from an acute angle.
Just minutes later, Barcelona scored a third – and it was a screamer.
Dani Alves drilled a free-kick from all of 30-yards that flew in off the far post and left the gifted Brazilian dancing in jubilation.
The Catalans notched a fourth shortly before the break.
Messi – who recently signed a contract extension until 2016 including a buy-out clause of £220 million – did fantastically well inside the box to cut the ball back for the Ivorian Keita to tap home left-footed on 41 minutes.
Atletico’s defending was questionable all night, but the home side were well worth their hefty advantage and were denied a penalty just two minutes later – the referee perhaps sympathising with the out-classed Atletico players.
Atletico did, however, grab a goal back on the stroke of half-time through Sergio Kun Aguero.
A poor header by Busquests on the halfway line freed Aguero to drive into the area and lift the ball deafly over Valdes in what was the first goal he has conceded this season.
Barcelona were unlucky not to score again on 55 minutes.
Henry’s incisive through ball evaded the outstretched leg of the defender and ran into the feet of Messi, who rounded the goalkeeper only for the ball to get caught under his foot with the goal gaping.
Just after the hour mark, Barca had a second penalty claim turned down.
Ibrahimovic set Messi off on a mazy run into the box. The Argentine placed the ball cleverly though Pablo’s legs only to be blocked off by the defender and then see his protest waved away.
Despite the home side dominating possession during the entire half, it was Atletico who were next to score.
Valdes tried to pick out a pass that was met by an Atletico head which subsequently found Diego Forlan who smashed the ball home from the edge of the box.
In the closing stages, Messi was cynically hauled down by Pablo in the centre-circle as he was breaking clear of the defence and the Spaniard was lucky there was cover as the referee brandished the yellow card.
The effervescent Messi was to have the last laugh as the game ran into the third minute of stoppage-time.
Superb build-up involving second-half substitute Iniesta and Dani Alves resulted in Messi being teed up to strike the ball home emphatically with his weaker right foot and bring a fitting end to a comprehensive victory for the Catalans.
Barcelona: Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique (Marquez, 75), Chygrynskiy, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi (Iniesta, 65), Keita, Henry, Ibrahimovic, Messi
Atletico: Roberto, Antonio Lopez, Ujfalusi, Pablo, Perea, Jurad, Assuncao (Koke, 70), Maxi, Simao, Forlan, Aguero (Sinama-Pongolle, 74)
Man of the Match: Lionel Messi – On another level. Scored two and refused to give the ball away whenever in possession.
Saturday’s other La Liga results:
Deportivo 2-3 Espanyol
Malaga 1-2 Racing Santander
Mallorca 4-0 Tenerife
Osasuna 0-2 Sevilla