Lionel Messi Brace Leads Barcelona Past Las Palmas in Behind-Closed-Doors Match

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistOctober 1, 2017

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Sergi Roberto (L) challenges Las Palmas' forward Pedro 'Tana' Tanasu during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs UD Las Palmas at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JOSE JORDAN        (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)
JOSE JORDAN/Getty Images

Barcelona restored a five-point lead at the head of La Liga on Sunday by defeating Las Palmas 3-0 at the Camp Nou, where Lionel Messi's second-half brace complemented Sergio Busquets' opener to maintain their perfect start to the season.

Manager Ernesto Valverde's men went in scoreless at the break and looked to be on the ropes before Messi turned the tide, setting up Busquets' breakthrough before scoring two of his own.

The Blaugrana asserted their dominance upon Spain's top flight on the same day Catalans cast their votes in an independence referendum, which sparked violence, leading to a report by Sky Sports News that the league match had been postponed:

A statement released via Barca's official website prior to kick-off noted the fixture would be played behind closed doors as a result of the clashes.

Given the events outside the Camp Nou walls and the gravity of the political landscape, it was understandable Barca's stars were muted in their performance early on Sunday.

Las Palmas hardly helped set aside those problems, either, as the Independent's Ed Malyon showed where the visiting club's allegiances in the referendum lay:

Without the usual rumble of the Camp Nou crowd, Barcelona laboured in finding their usual tempo over the first 30 minutes, although Messi inevitably looked like one of the hosts' more dangerous threats moving forward.

While Sunday's fixture might have been difficult for the players to endure, La Liga expert Graham Hunter reported their punishment for refusing to play would have been far more dire:

Barca's temper showed when four of their players received bookings in the last 15 minutes of the opening period. The teams went in scoreless at the break, and Valverde threw on Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic to begin the second half as he sought to enact a change.

And change was needed, as OptaJose posted evidence as to just how poor an opening-half display it was from the home side compared to their usual standards:

Las Palmas loanee Jonathan Calleri hit the woodwork in the dying minutes of the first half, and that near miss was made all the worse when Busquets found the breakthrough not long after the restart.

Argentinian import Messi took a corner from the right, and Goal's Ben Hayward commented on the poetic nature of Busquets being the man to head Barca into a one-goal cushion:

The added composure brought by Iniesta and Rakitic in midfield gave some aid to Valverde's men in gaining a stronger foothold, even if they had to settle for an uncharacteristic minority of possession.

Their patience yielded results, too, when Messi rounded Las Palmas goalkeeper Leandro Chichizola to keep up his remarkable record of scoring at home—fans present or not—following a great ball through from Denis Suarez:

Barca really started to hum, and Las Palmas began to lose any grip they had on proceedings.

If the result wasn't settled already, Messi made sure to do so with his second strike of the match with 13 minutes remaining—again set up by a Suarez, although this time it was striker Luis who created the chance.

AFP's Kieran Canning hailed the impenetrable composure shown by Barca's hero of the hour—and most hours—who notched his 11th goal in just his seventh league appearance of the campaign to put the result beyond doubt:

It was almost fate that Barcelona should triumph on the pitch while Catalonia's referendum for independence caused controversy off it, and Spain's other great power, Real Madrid, now sit 10 points off the leaders.

Los Merengues will have their chance to close that gap and move up to fourth when they play host to Espanyol later on Sunday, although there's no disguising the gulf that separates the two teams early in the campaign.