Lionel Messi was in inspirational form as he scored four goals – including a first-half hat-trick – to lead Barcelona to an easy 5-0 win over Eibar at the end of a difficult week for the club. (More Football News)
Messi had gone over a month without a goal in La Liga before Saturday but once he found his groove there was no hope for hapless Eibar, as Barca's talisman tore the visitors apart at will.
Much of the build-up to the contest had been dominated by off-field matters, including the controversial out-of-window signing of Martin Braithwaite and president Josep Maria Bartomeu denying the club hired a firm to "damage the image" of players past and present, including Messi.
Yet Messi appeared unencumbered by the controversies, the Argentina superstar scoring a wonderful treble in the first half before adding a late fourth, while a goal for Arthur completed a handsome triumph ahead of a potentially season-defining week which includes clashes with Napoli and Real Madrid.
40' - Only vs Mallorca in October 2011 Lionel Messi scored an earlier hat-trick (30') than today's game vs Eibar (40') in his professional career. Rush@FCBarcelona#LionelMessi #La LigaSantander pic.twitter.com/YotjADSqf3— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 22, 2020
The white handkerchiefs were being waved with vigour in the direction of Bartomeu by many supporters even before kick-off, and for a moment early on in the contest they looked to have another reason to fume, as Sergi Enrich emphatically headed in.
But the offside flag spared Barca from falling behind and Messi soon took charge, opening the scoring with a remarkable goal – coolly clipping a delicate effort past Marko Dmitrovic having nutmegged Anaitz Arbilla and held off Papa Diop.
It was 2-0 in the 37th minute, Messi again driving into the box and picking out the bottom-right corner with aplomb.
And he swiftly completed his treble, turning in from close range after Antoine Griezmann wasted an opportunity to shoot.
The hosts appeared to ease off after the break, with the only notable opportunity before the hour-mark seeing Ivan Rakitic thwarted by Dmitrovic after Griezmann's cross.
However, Barca eventually increased the deficit in the final three minutes – Messi scoring his fourth after toying with the Eibar defence before Arthur's straightforward finish, with substitute Braithwaite showing his usefulness by having a hand in both.
What does it mean? Messi finds his range before key fixtures
There is every chance that, at the end of the season, Barca will look back on the final week of February as crucial. After an underwhelming – by his immense standards – run, Messi is back in business, and just in time.
With a trip to Napoli in the Champions League and El Clasico on the horizon, Barca go from one testing week to another. At least the focus will be solely on the football this time - unless reports of an impromptu presidential election on Thursday prove accurate.
Who else but Messi?
Messi failing to score in four successive league matches is almost unheard of, but he bounced back in devastating fashion with four goals. Nevertheless, one has to wonder why Quique Setien refused to take him off with the team cruising to victory.
Several chances fell the way of Griezmann, but one he blasted straight at Dmitrovic and another he made a complete meal of with a poor touch - luckily for the latter Messi was on hand to tuck away. This was another underwhelming performance from the Frenchman.
Key Opta Facts
- Barca have won all of their six La Liga games at Camp Nou against Eibar, scoring at least three goals in each (24 goals in total).
- Rakitic's last six assists in all competitions for Barcelona ended in Messi goals.
- After failing to score for 398 minutes in La Liga, Messi has scored to end his barren run.
- No La Liga player has scored more goals against Eibar than Messi (nine goals).
- Jose Luis Mendilibar has had more Messi's goals (29) scored against him than any other manager in La Liga history.
Barca travel to Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday, before they go to the Santiago Bernabeu next Sunday. Eibar, meanwhile, are in league action on Saturday, hosting Levante.