Luis Suarez fired Barcelona to a comfortable 6-1 win over Celta Vigo on Sunday at the Camp Nou, scoring a hat-trick in the second half of their 2016 La Liga clash.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring with a wonderful free-kick before John Guidetti equalised from the penalty spot. Celta held their own during the first half, but the hosts shifted gears after the break, and Suarez's hat-trick broke the match wide-open. Ivan Rakitic and Neymar added goals of their own in the final minutes.
While the Catalans looked far from their best in the first half, they opened things up in the final 20 minutes to come away with a lopsided win. The final score looked harsh on Celta, who gave it their all and certainly deserved better.
As shared by Barcelona's official Twitter account, manager Luis Enrique opted to field a strong starting XI, which included young midfielder Sergi Roberto (24):
FC Barcelona @FCBarcelona
🔵🔴@FCBarcelona XI: 13.Bravo 3.Piqué 5.Sergio 6.Alves 8.A.Iniesta 9.Suárez 10.Messi 11.Neymar 14.Mascherano 18.J. Alba 20.S.Roberto #FCBLive2016-2-14 18:33:53
Celta have looked inconsistent in the past few weeks, but at their best, they've made life hard on La Liga's elite clubs. When the Catalans visited Galicia in September, the hosts hammered them, winning 4-1.
On Sunday, Celta again made a positive start, and the first chance of the match fell to Josep Sene, who fired a first-time shot just wide of Claudio Bravo's goal.
The Blaugrana dominated possession, but their passing game lacked its usual fluidity. And Celta's defence easily dealt with the pressure early. Per ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan, their bright start was particularly noteworthy given the number of absent players:
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Celta missing their 'ANO' trident of Aspas [banned], Nolito [still injured] and Orellana [also banned], hurting chances of another upset.2016-2-14 19:29:51
Messi tried his luck for the first time after 12 minutes, curling a shot just wide of the post, before Neymar put goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez to work with a powerful volley.
The Ballon d'Or winner gave the home fans an unusual highlight with one of the oddest dribbles you'll ever see, using the official as a shield between himself and the Celta defenders, but the move eventually led to nothing, as the visitors continued to defend with discipline.
They also enjoyed several spells of possession—a rarity for visiting teams at the Camp Nou—and after a poor pass from Roberto, Celta nearly took a shock lead after 25 minutes. Daniel Wass eventually worked the ball to Carles Planas, but Bravo came up with an excellent save, per Corrigan:
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Super break by Celta after Sergi Roberto mistake on half-way. Bravo with flying save from Planas after good work from Wass.2016-2-14 19:55:59
But just as it looked Celta would really trouble Barcelona, the hosts struck. Messi lined up to take a free-kick from 25 yards out and produced a fantastic delivery, curling it over the wall and straight into the top corner.
Men in Blazers was in awe:
Men in Blazers @MenInBlazers
Lionel Messi. Every week. Human perfection2016-2-14 19:58:56
Some fans and pundits, mainly those who support a different title contender, noted the official gave Barcelona a generous spot for the free-kick, however, and Real Madrid TV's Phil Kitromilides couldn't help himself, as he shared this still from Soy Madridista:
Phil Kitromilides @PhilKitro
Where the foul on Messi was, and where the free kick he scored from was taken. https://t.co/WmuCtGanBm2016-2-14 20:24:01
Regardless of the spot of the foul, the goal gave Barcelona life, and suddenly, the squad looked like the unstoppable machine we've seen the past few months. Suarez nearly found himself at the end of a lovely pass from Messi before Neymar took too long to get a shot off.
On the other side of the pitch, Claudio Beauvue tested the reflexes of Bravo with a stunning volley, but the Barcelona goalkeeper was up to the task.
Jordi Alba nearly doubled the hosts' lead, blasting a shot over the cross bar, and minutes later, he stole the spotlight for a different reason. The full-back tussled with Guidetti and ended up tripping the striker, leaving the official no choice but to point to the spot.
La Liga blogger Sergi Dominguez couldn't believe the Spain international allowed that to happen:
Sergi Domínguez @FutbolSergi
Penalty for Celta. So silly from Alba.2016-2-14 20:09:39
Guidetti converted the spot-kick, tying things up just before half-time. Suarez had one more chance to reclaim the lead, blasting a shot just wide, and Neymar should have done better just before the half-time whistle, firing a shot well over the bar.
La Liga author Sid Lowe noted the Brazilian wasn't having his best night:
Sid Lowe @sidlowe
A few times now that Neymar has taken wrong decision and run into a crowd2016-2-14 20:06:12
Barcelona started the second half on fire and mustered two early chances to reclaim the lead. First, Neymar's touch let him down in a promising position before Suarez smashed a powerful shot off the post. Roberto missed the follow-up, scuffing a shot wide of the goal.
On the other side of the pitch, Celta wanted a free-kick when Gerard Pique appeared to handle the ball inside his own box, but the official was unmoved. Corrigan thought the defender got away with one:
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Pique gets away with hand as Guidetti takes him on 30 yards out. Still end to end stuff.2016-2-14 20:38:48
The Catalans continued to push forward, and Andres Iniesta drew a miraculous save from Alvarez, who had to stretch himself to the fullest to deny the veteran. Neymar also came close, firing another shot over the bar with plenty of bodies between the ball and the Celta goal.
A goal seemed inevitable, and it was Suarez who eventually put Barcelona ahead again after a lovely combination with Messi. Former England international Gary Lineker loved it:
Gary Lineker @GaryLineker
Messi. Suarez. You. Are. Ridiculous!2016-2-14 20:45:56
With the lead, Barcelona dropped the pace of the match and started focusing more on possession. The tactic almost proved costly, as Wass suddenly found himself in a promising shooting position and missed the target by inches.
Messi, Neymar and Suarez combined for another great team goal to put the lead safe, with the Brazilian rounding Alvarez before cutting the ball back to Suarez, who easily converted from close range.
The third goal appeared to liberate Barcelona, who rediscovered their attacking verve and nearly made it 4-1 through Neymar. His chip seemed to get the better of Alvarez, but the stopper recovered just in time to deny him his goal.
Barcelona ran right through Celta in the final minutes, as Suarez completed his hat-trick in remarkable fashion. The Catalans were handed a penalty, but instead of firing home, Messi laid the ball off to the Uruguayan, who had followed up and easily scored his third.
Bleacher Report UK's Karl Matchett couldn't believe it:
Karl Matchett @karlmatchett
Utterly outrageous #FCB #Suarez #Messi2016-2-14 21:09:19
Minutes later, Rakitic made it 5-1, converting a wonderful cross from Suarez from close range. Celta tried to restore some dignity with a late counterattack, but it came to naught. Instead, it was Neymar who put the final score on the board.
Barcelona's next outing will be at Sporting Gijon, while Celta Vigo will travel to the Basque Country to take on Eibar.
Manager Luis Enrique thought his team looked "spectacular" in the second half, per Barcelona's official Twitter account: "Against Celta it is never easy. We were spectacular in the second half."
He also expressed his team's desire to have fun while they play and make sure the fans do as well: "We want to enjoy ourselves and help our fans enjoy themselves, in a sporting way."