Even for a man who makes a habit of breaching goal-scoring milestones, Sunday was pretty special for Lionel Messi.
The first player to score in 11 consecutive La Liga games: check. The youngest player in history to reach 200 La Liga goals: check. Surpassing 30 league goals for the four successive seasons: check.
Messi scored four goals at the Camp Nou to help Barcelona return to winning ways in La Liga with a 5-1 victory over Osasuna. And all that after he had been forced to sit out training on Friday through injury.
But despite a Copa del Rey semifinal against Real Madrid coming up on Wednesday, there was never any doubt that Messi would play. Here is a player who detests the very concept of being rested.
Osasuna must have wished that Messi was just a little bit more fragile. He scored just 11 minutes into the contest as Barcelona sought to rebound from their first league defeat of the season—to Real Sociedad last weekend. Osasuna temporarily threw a spanner in the works with an equalizer through Raoul Loe, but Barcelona would soon be back on their way to the three points.
Messi slotted home a penalty after a handball by Javi Arribas, which earned the defender a second yellow card, and Pedro put the Blaugrana 3-1 up before the break. Messi added two in the second half to make the score line more emphatic and in truth it was a wonder that Osasuna managed to keep the score down to 5.
Barcelona go 11 points clear in the La Liga standings, with second-placed Atletico Madrid set to travel to Athletic Bilbao later in the day.
Having lost 8-0 in the corresponding fixture last season, relegation-threatened Osasuna could have been forgiving for fearing the worst when Messi put the home side in front after just 11 minutes. Osasuna goalkeeper Andres Fernandez rushed out of his goal but produced a poor clearance straight to Xavi. The midfield maestro conjured up a superb pass through to Messi and the prolific forward almost appeared to floor Fernandez just with a look allowing him to go round the goalkeeper and slot into the empty net.
But Osasuna had a major surprise in store. After 24 minutes a right-wing corner was cleared to the edge of the box and Loe fired a low first-time drive into the corer past an unsighted Victor Valdes.
The celebrations would be short lived, however, as the match turned inexorably in Barcelona’s favor four minutes later. Arribas appeared to try and header away a cross into the box, but instead the ball struck his outstretched arm and the referee pointed to the spot. Having already been booked for handball earlier in the match, Arribas received his second caution and was dismissed.
Worse was to come for Osasuna as they lost their coach Jose Luis Mendilibar to the stands after he protested too vigorously over the referee’s decision.
Messi made no mistake in converting the spot kick to restore Barcelona’s advantage.
And the lead would be doubled five minutes before the break. Xavi produced his second delightful and decisive pass as he chipped the ball over the Osasuna defense and found Dani Alves breaking in trademark style into the box down the right. The Brazilian laid the ball across goal and Pedro took a touch before finishing coolly.
More goals for Barcelona in the second half always looked likely. And so it proved 11 minutes after the break.
Messi flicked the ball out to Villa who took the ball on before rolling it perfectly back into his teammate’s path in the box and the Argentinean rounded Fernandez for the second time in the contest and side-footed into the net from the angle to complete his hat-trick.
Osasuna were now being run ragged and Barcelona scored a second in just over a minute with Villa again heavily involved. The Spain forward, making a rare start, pulled the ball back cleverly into the box for Adriano and the Brazilian showed his awareness to lay it across goal for Messi to strike home from six yards.
Barcelona continued to press and dominate for the remainder of the contest, but Osasuna were left relieved that efforts from Villa and particularly several by Alexis Sanchez failed to find the net.