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Suarez treble and Messi masterclass settle Catalan clash as Barca dazzle

Girona led through Portu at Barcelona but Luis Suarez’s hat-trick, a Lionel Messi double and Philippe Coutinho’s strike turned it around.

Messi scored a brace for Barcelona on Saturday.
Messi scored a brace for Barcelona on Saturday.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

LIONEL MESSI DAZZLED on his way to another career record as Luis Suarez hit a hat-trick in Barcelona’s 6-1 demolition of Girona on Saturday night.

Messi notched a superb brace and has now scored against 36 opponents in Spain’s top flight – more than any other player in the competition’s history.

Ninth-placed Girona have made waves in their debut La Liga season and Pablo Machin’s side drew first blood at Camp Nou through Portu, the forward adding to goals against Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia this term.

Barca’s response was brilliant, with Messi running through his full repertoire to put their Catalan neighbours in their place and move on to 30 in all competitions this season.

A 10-point lead over Atletico Madrid – who face a tricky trip to Sevilla on Sunday – was essentially secured by half-time, but Philippe Coutinho spectacular first league strike for the Blaugrana and Suarez’s treble gave the home faithful further reason to revel.

It was the first time Messi, Suarez, Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele were named in the same starting XI by Ernesto Valverde, but there is little doubt over who remains the master.

Ivan Rakitic picked the wrong moment to get involved in the showboating spirit of Barcelona’s all-star line-up when his ill-advised backheel led to Girona’s third-minute opener.

Girona scythed forward on the break and, although Aday Benitez appeared to have overrun the ball, hesitation between Barca centre-back Samuel Umtiti and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen allowed Portu to steal in and finish well from a narrow angle.

Spain: Barcelona v Girona - La Liga Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The home side responded instantly – Messi rolling a typically perfect throughball for Suarez to slot home.

The Argentinian superstar soon clicked into virtuoso mode with some sumptuous passing and, when Suarez returned the favour of his earlier assist, Bernardo Espinosa scampered back to head Messi’s chip off the line.

Bono’s efforts were not so robust after half an hour as Messi twisted back inside Jonas Ramalho and Juanpe. The resulting shot was struck firmly enough but the Girona goalkeeper should have done better than parrying into his bottom right corner.

Barca’s talisman seemed determined to turn Bono’s night into an ordeal and he clipped a cute free-kick under a jumping defensive wall to make it 3-1.

Girona kept coming and Ter Stegen saved sharply from Anthony Lozano’s header, but a blistering break orchestrated by Messi allowed Coutinho to tee up Suarez for a simple finish.

There was no let-up from Valverde’s side and Rakitic and Dembele combined for Suarez to hit the outside of the post in pursuit of his hat-trick after 54 minutes.

Dembele shifted inside Espinoza to come agonisingly close to a confidence-boosting goal before Gerard Pique was allowed to rest for the final half hour, having again hobbled through portions of the action.

Coutinho brought Camp Nou to its feet with a trademark curler from 25 yards midway through the second half.

Bono finally bested Messi by tipping his latest free-kick away from the top corner and touched a late header from substitute Thomas Vermaelan on to the bar.

But he had to pick a ball that now belongs to Suarez out of his net one last time in the 77th minute – Dembele charging down the right channel and crossing for the Uruguay striker to do the rest.

Barca finished the game with 10 when, after making all three substitutions, right-back Nelson Semedo limped off with an apparent hamstring injury.

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