Argentine skipper Lionel Messi scored two and assisted two as Barcelona romped to a 4-1 victory over nine-man Espanyol in their Copa del Rey last-16 first leg on Wednesday.
Arda Turan finally made his debut for La Blaugrana, exactly six months since he arrived from Atletico Madrid, while Aleix Vidal was forced to settle for a place on the bench in Dani Alves’ presence. Marc-Andre ter Stegen also replaced Claudio Bravo between the sticks.
Constantin Galca, on the other hand, somewhat surprisingly made three changes of his own, bringing in Antonio Raillo, Abraham Gonzalez and Gerard Moreno, despite Espanyol holding the hosts to a goalless draw at Cornella-El Prat over the weekend.
Barca were punished for a slow start as Espanyol, facing their fellow Catalans for a second successive game, took the lead from a classic counterattack, instigated by Marco Asensio and finished off by Caicedo with an assured finish, one-on-one with Ter Stegen.
However their advantage did not last long, Messi – moments after he failed to beat Pau Lopez from – point-blank range – sending a finish past the goalkeeper, having been found by Andres Iniesta’s defence-splitting pass.
The No 10 then took matters into his own hands with another wonderful free kick. Standing around 30 yards from goal, he curled the ball towards the top-right corner of the net, before it kissed the crossbar and bounced over the line.
Espanyol looked to tighten up after the break, Salva Sevilla having replaced Asensio for the second half, but the change backfired as Messi raced to the left-hand byline and drilled in a low cross for Gerard Pique to slide emphatically past Pau Lopez.
Barca continued to churn out chances, with an on-song Messi the architect, while Espanyol ended the game with nine bookings, Los Periquitos several yards off the pace at Camp Nou and regularly resorting to cynical tactics.
Pau was lucky to escape punishment for an apparent stamp on Messi, but he made a match-saving pair of saves, first to keep out Arda’s low drive from a one-two with the Argentine, before turning behind Neymar’s blistering free kick.
It became a matter of ‘if’, not ‘when’, an Espanyol player would be sent off, and Hernan Perez was the first to receive his marching orders as he blocked off Neymar. Papekouli Diop soon followed, although his succession of fouls were surprisingly overshadowed by a straight red for dissent.
Arda left the pitch to widespread applause as he made his case for a regular place with just over 20 minutes remaining, and on came fellow new boy Vidal, who also failed to put a foot wrong, most notably showcasing his desire to get forward down the right.
Fittingly, and having been targeted for most of the match, a carded Messi and Neymar promptly returned to doing what they did best at the death, the pair playing a deft one-two, which the Brazilian volleyed past Pau, complete with a wry smile.