Four goals from Leo Messi, taking his season’s total to 72, made for the perfect farewell to Pep Guardiola as Barça beat local rivals Espanyol 4-0 in Guardiola’s last game at Camp Nou as first team coach. It was an emotional night for Guardiola with numerous demonstrations of appreciation for him. Perhaps the most memorable moment was when Messi scored the fourth goal to reach 50 in this season’s Liga and the whole team went over to pay homage to the man who had led them to so much success over the last four years.
Barça began with a traditional 4-3-3 with the only surprise being the continuation of Martin Montoya at right back which will no doubt add fuel to the rumours of a problem with Dani Alves. The game began with both teams trying to push up as much as possible which meant there was little time for either team to settle, however, the game was lacking the bite seen in other derby games. Then in the 11th minute Messi was body checked by Victor Sanchez just outside the penalty area, from the free kick the Argentinian curled a beauty away from the reach of Espanyol keeper Alvarez and into the corner.
The goal did little to improve the game and the magic seen on other Camp Nou nights was lacking. Keita had the best chance for another goal after a good pass from Messi but he failed to take the ball round Alvarez who saved at the Malian’s feet, then Iniesta came close with another free kick but Alvarez saved. There was one great dribble from Iniesta with a pass through a defender’s legs to Pedro who got it back to Iniesta but Moreno lunged in to block the shot. Espanyol’s best first half effort came from Alvaro with a hopeful try from 35 yards that went wide, and a disappointing first half ended with Messi sending another free kick into the side netting.
Iniesta had another chance early in the second half after good work from Keita and Thiago but Iniesta’s left foot shot went wide of the far post. The game might have fizzled out but the referee decided to award us a rather fortunate penalty. Messi brilliantly controlled a deep corner at the back of the penalty area and as he tried to go past Gomez the ball struck the Espanyol defender on the arm. there was clearly no intention but Messi made the most of the opportunity sending his penalty in off the post.
I have to admit at this point I was remembering the times I have made the absurd accusation that Cristiano Ronaldo only scores from penalties and free kick. Messi though then completed his hat-trick with a goal in open play. Adriano found himself on the right side and he sent a fantastic cross field ball for Messi running through the inside left position, Messi entered the area and fired a low shot across Alvarez and into the far corner.
Four minutes later Espanyol failed to clear a corner and when Sergio Busquets went for the loose ball he was brought down by Forlin. Messi again sent Alvarez the wrong way for his fourth of the night. Espanyol offered very little though Weiss nearly scored after beating Pinto to a ball outside the area but Mascherano was scampering back to head spectacularly over the bar. Then right at the end Busquets sent Messi clean through and a fifth looked certain, however, this time the Messi dink over the keeper was not perfect and the ball rolled a yard wide.
Messi’s season defies belief. The press today had spoken off the final records that Messi could break, Dudu Georgescu’s European record of 47 league goals in a season for Dinamo Bucharest fell, Archibald Stock’s world record of 70 goals in the American Soccer League in 1924/25 also went. Messi has scored fifty league goals. Fifty, Five-Oh, I doubt I will ever see this repeated. There have been eight league hat tricks and two more in the Champions League. Seventy-two in total and he still has two games to go!
However, the limelight was for Guardiola. At the end of the game the players celebrated with Guardiola, throwing him in the air as they had done after so many triumphs. Pep, don’t go far and please come back soon. Thanks again for four unforgettable years.
Barça: Pinto 6.5; Montoya 6.5, Puyol 7, Mascherano 7.5, Adriano 7.5 (Tello m78, 6); Thiago 7, Busquets 7, Keita 6.5 (Fabregas m68, 6); Pedro 6.5, Messi 9, Iniesta 6.5 (Xavi m82, .
Espanyol: Alvarez; Lopez (Gomez m59), Rodriguez, Moreno, Didac; Forlin, Verdu (Fonte m79), Weiss, Baena, Victor Sanchez; Alvaro (Coutinho m65).
Goals: m12 Messi 1-0, m64 Messi (pen) 2-0, m74 Messi 3-0, m79 Messi (pen) 4-0
Yellow cards: m4 Forlin, m20 Busquets, m30 V.Sanchez, m63 Gomez, m63 Alvarez, m84 Tello, m89 Puyol.