Lionel Messi summoned up some freekick magic as part of a hat-trick performance that earned Barcelona a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday night at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
The Argentine converted a first half penalty kick, only for Celta to respond through Lucas Olaza. But a pair of wonderfully-struck free kicks from Messi on either side of half-time paved the way for a relatively drama-free second-half, that was then capped by a rare Sergio Busquets goal.
Embattled manager Ernesto Valverde made several notable changes from the team that limped to a scoreless draw in midweek versus Slavia Prague. Ansu Fati was back in the mix up top, while both Junior Firpo and Samuel Umtiti got rare starts in defence.
Outside of a quick combination between Messi and Sergi Roberto in which the former shot wide, Barcelona largely were playing at the same plodding, slow tempo that has plagued them of late.
But the hosts had good fortune on their side and referee Cuadra Fernandez made no hesitation to point to the spot when Junior Firpo’s cross from the left struck the arm of Aidoo just inside the area and Messi rolled in the penalty with no problem to give Barcelona a 1-0 lead.
Before the Argentine took his spot kick, Valverde made his first substitution, with Busquets replacing the injured Nelson Semedo.
While Barcelona retained the majority of possession throughout the half, it wasn’t exactly threatening stuff. More disconcerting for Barcelona supporters was that Messi looked off to start, with several uncharacteristic giveaways and a rash challenge that earned Celta a free kick deep in the Blaugrana half.
To the dismay of the Camp Nou, Celta took full advantage as Olaza curled in a left-footed effort to pull the Galicians level 1-1 shortly before half-time.
But seconds before the break, Arthur won a free-kick outside the Celta area and Messi made up for earlier by hammering in a left-footer of his own to regain the advantage for Barcelona, 2-1.
Valverde made his second change at the break, bringing on Ousmane Dembele for Ansu Fati and the Frenchman almost paid dividends immediately with a shot that just missed in the opening minute of the second stanza.
In what was almost a carbon copy of his second goal, another foul outside the Celta area earned Barcelona a free-kick, and again the Argentine delivered with another curler that Celta goalkeeper Ruben had no prayer of saving, giving Barcelona a 3-1 lead.
Barcelona had a lot more energy in the second half and when they won the ball back from Celta deep in the Celta half, a fourth goal looked to be coming, but Antoine Griezmann‘s shot was blocked by Ruben.
The hosts were in control and Valverde looked to his bench to put Celta to the sword, replacing Griezmann with the fit-again Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan would not get a goal in his return, but instead the fourth Barcelona goal came from the most unlikely of sources in Busquets.
Celta tried to clear a deep cross, but the ball landed to Busquets and with his trademark delicate first touch, the veteran midfielder launched a right-footer that rippled the net to round out the 4-1 scoreline.
4.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo (Busquets, min. 23), Pique, Umtiti, Junior; De Jong, Sergi Roberto, Arthur; Messi, Ansu (Dembele, min. 46), Griezmann (Suarez, min. 73)
1.- Celta: Ruben; Hugo Mallo, Aidoo, Araujo, Olaza; Pape (Gabriel Fernandez, min. 81), Beltran, Lobotka (Denis Suarez, min. 76); Junca, Sisto (Brais, min. 64), Aspas
Goals: 1-0, min. 23: Messi (p); 1-1, min. 42: Olaza; 2-1, min. 45+1: Messi; 3-1, min. 48: Messi; 4-1, min. 85: Busquets
Referee: Cuadra Fernandez (Balearic). Yellow Cards: Umtiti (Min. 25), Messi (Min. 40), Fran Beltran (Min. 45), Sergi Roberto (Min. 52), Busquets (Min. 88).