Barcelona beat Espanyol in the Catalan derby for the ninth time in 10 encounters to move into second place in LaLiga.
Two goals from Luis Suarez and a scintillating Lionel Messi display helped Barcelona to a 4-1 Catalan derby win over Espanyol on Sunday.
Suarez scored in each half before Jordi Alba added a third, but it was some astonishing footwork from Messi that brought Camp Nou to its feet as the home fans celebrated a victory that takes them back into second place in LaLiga.
Barca had not been beaten by their city rivals since 2009 and they looked set to extend that run as soon as Suarez put them ahead following a spectacular long pass from Andres Iniesta.
Luis Enrique’s side dominated proceedings while keeping an in-form Espanyol side firmly at arm’s length, although there remained a certain amount of nervousness as they struggled to find a killer second goal.
But two remarkable runs from Messi allowed Suarez and Alba to score in the space of a minute midway through the second half before his late strike, scored after David Lopez’s consolation, capped arguably one of the champions’ best displays in LaLiga this season.
The result puts Barca back above Sevilla and into second place, three points behind newly-crowned world champions Real Madrid, who have a game in hand.
15 – Lionel Messi has scored 15 goals against Espanyol in La Liga, more than any other player in the Catalonian derbies. Infallible. pic.twitter.com/B0YpPit5Cp
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 18, 2016
Suarez led a swift Barca counter with a brilliant turn on the halfway line in just the seventh minute, but Messi surprisingly failed to turn home Neymar’s low cross from the left.
The hosts did not have to wait long for the opener, though.
After Javier Mascherano won the ball near the edge of his own penalty area, Iniesta fired a brilliant long pass towards Suarez, who killed the ball with a superb first touch before racing into the area and slotting low past Diego Lopez.
Messi fizzed a low shot narrowly wide of Diego Lopez’s left-hand post just before the half-hour mark, though a goal would have been controversial as David Lopez had gone to ground after being caught in the face by Sergio Busquets’ raised hand.
Suarez was denied a second by a good save at his near post from Diego Lopez after a sublime throughball from Messi, and the goalkeeper had to be replaced by Roberto after picking up an injury in making the stop.
Just as the home fans were growing a little restless, Messi came to life to make the points safe.
First, the Argentina captain produced dazzlingly quick feet to ride three challenges on the edge of the area before unleashing a low strike, and when Roberto could only parry the ball back out, Suarez was on hand to covert the rebound.
A minute later, Messi surged through the Espanyol defence with a blistering run and, when the ball broke to Alba inside the box, the full-back arrowed a fine finish into Roberto’s bottom-right corner.
David Lopez turned a brilliant finish high into Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s net from 18 yards after a flowing counter-attack involving Pablo Piatti and Gerard Moreno, but Messi scored the goal of the game in the dying minutes to bring Barca’s league commitments for 2016 to a stylish close.
Driving forward on the break, he played the ball to Suarez and received a delightful chipped pass in return before prodding the ball through Roberto’s legs and into the net.