08 Dec Ernesto Valverde hails latest Lionel Messi masterclass
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde hailed “extraordinary” Lionel Messi after his brilliant free-kicks helped set up an impressive 4-0 win at derby rivals Espanyol.
Seville had earlier seen hopes of keeping the pressure up on the leaders dented after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser at Valencia.
Barcelona capitalised to move three points clear, and never looked in danger at the RCDE Stadium, where they were 3-0 ahead by half-time.
Messi, who finished fifth in this year’s Ballon d’Or vote, opened the scoring with a fine free-kick before picking out Ousmane Dembele to double the lead after 26 minutes.
Luis Suarez scored from the tightest of angles just before half-time, with the Barcelona captain then curling in another superb dead-ball strike after 65 minutes to cap a fine individual and team performance.
Valverde, whose side host Tottenham in their final Champions League group game on Tuesday night, knows just how fortunate Barcelona are to have such a talent.
“Messi is just extraordinary. The two goals, the chances created and what he gives us, he is extraordinary,” the Barcelona manager said at a press conference according to Marca.
“What am I going to say about Leo? He can unlock any game, having him with us is infinite good fortune.
“We are in an unrepeatable time to see a football player like him.”
Valverde is refusing to read much into the current league table, with Atletico Madrid level with Sevilla on 28 points after their 3-0 win over Alaves in Saturday’s early kick-off.
“It is still early and everything is very tight,” the Barcelona boss said.
“The idea is for us to keep getting better and stronger in away games but we know how hard it is to beat anyone in this league.
“We knew about the danger of Espanyol, especially at home. A derby is always special.
“They are a team that, aside from the last game, had won all of their matches here.
“We wanted to dominate and little by little we managed to do that and I think the 3-0 (at half-time) reflected how the match went.”
Espanyol defender Oscar Duarte looked to have scored a late consolation when he stabbed the ball in from close range.
However, following a lengthy review from the Video Assistant Referee, the goal was ruled out for offside.
Duarte said afterwards to Espanyol club media: “We are very hurt because we know what kind of occasion it was and we didn’t want to lose.
“We thank the fans for the support and being always with us.”