Barcelona restored their ten point gap at the top of La Liga, with a dominant display against their newfound regional rivals Girona in front of the biggest Nou Camp crowd this season, and put the pressure on Atletico Madrid to follow suit in their crunch clash with Sevilla on Sunday night.
Despite a Luis Suarez hat-trick, it was the diminutive magician who shone most brightly in the face of an uncharacteristically porous Girona defence.
?Amazingly, it was the visitors who drew first blood, going ahead inside the first three minutes, with Portu capitalising on some lackadaisical defending from Samuel Umtiti.
Anthony Lozano’s speculative run off the left flank looked to be over after a poor touch, but Umtiti’s dithering was pounced on by Portu, who’s effort cannoned in via the inside of both posts.
However, Barcelona restored parity almost immediately, with Lionel Messi given too much time to pick out Luis Suarez’s probing run behind Girona’s back three. Despite the Uruguayan’s shot being somewhat scuffed, the pace of the move was too much for a stationary Bono between the sticks.
While Girona showed their willingness to press Barcelona, and ability to capitalise on any loose passing from their opponents, it was Barca who unsurprisingly took the reins in the encounter.
As goes hand in hand with such implications, it was Lionel Messi who held the primary grip, emboldened by the kind of space and time he was not sanctioned at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
Twice he unlocked the Girona defence, with sublimely clipped balls into first Ousmane Dembele – who’s understandable rustiness showed – and then a scurrying Jordi Alba who was equally inefficient.
The Blaugrana continued to exploit their Catalan rivals’ evident aerial weakness, as Messi turned to receiver and Suarez to provider. The Argentinian was able to beat the keeper with his lofted effort, but not the tracking defender who directed his defensive header impressively over the bar.
Despite ample warning, Girona failed to rectify their defensive ineptitude. This time it was Rakitic who was left with an abundance space, duly finding Luis Suarez, who’s weighted lay off found Messi, who stereotypically ducked and weaved his way around the recovering defenders before slotting his shot past a yielding Bono.
Having already secured his 21st goal and 12th assist after just 30 minutes, this statistical symmetry was to last only six minutes, as he nestled an enticing free kick effortlessly into the bottom left corner, via the underside of the leaping wall.
With Girona’s three man defence buckling so readily, the only thing that was surprising about Barcelona’s fourth score was that it took a further nine minutes. The inexorable Messi carved his slicing run through a dissipating defence, prodding it through to Philippe Coutinho. who selflessly set up Suarez for his second of the night.
With all three points tied up before half time, Barcelona were able to chance their arm offensively in the second period, with the primary objective seemingly to incorporate the returning Dembele into the action.
However, it was his club transfer record usurping fellow newboy Coutinho who grabbed the initiative, rolling back to his years in the red of Liverpool with a customarily accurate curling shot from outside of the box to snatch the fifth.
Ten minutes later, it was finally Dembele’s chance to shine, as his smart cross was straightforwardly converted by Luis Suarez, who collected his first hat-trick of the season, and his 22nd goal in as many La Liga appearances.
The six goal haul was the antithesis of their stymied showing in the Champions League midweek, and sent a resounding message of intent to their title ‘rivals’ Atletico Madrid before the highly anticipated fixture between the two sides in a week’s time.