BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi scored a hat trick and Ousmane Dembele set up a goal in his debut for Barcelona in a comfortable 5-0 win over crosstown rival Espanyol on Saturday.
Messi struck twice in the first half, and leads the Spanish league with five goals. Gerard Pique headed in a fourth goal.
After going on as a second-half substitute, Dembele didn’t take long to help his team when he passed for Luis Suarez to round off the rout in the 90th.
A third win in as many rounds left Barcelona atop of the standings, with two more points than second-place Sevilla and four more points than defending champion Real Madrid in sixth.
Messi opened the scoring at Camp Nou when he received a pass from Ivan Rakitic in what appeared to be an offside position. With no call coming from the referee, Messi dribbled around a defender and fired home.
“They told me that the first goal could be offside, (…) but we did a lot to create several chances,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.
He got his second by sliding to redirect Jordi Alba’s pass by goalkeeper Pau Lopez. Messi started the attack but lost the ball, only for it to take two deflections off defenders before falling to Alba in the area.
After Espanyol forward Pablo Piatti hit the post, Messi made it a treble with a left-footed strike to slot in another pass from Alba.
Dembele went on moments later to a round of applause from his new supporters. Barcelona paid a club-record sum to Borussia Dortmund for the 20-year-old France forward. With add-ons, his transfer could reach $173 million.
Dembele showed his speed when he raced down the right side on a quick counterattack and crossed for Suarez to score.
Suarez was making his league debut this season after missing the first two matches with a leg injury.
Round 1 of the 2017-18 El Clasico rivalry favored Barcelona, courtesy of goals scored by Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic and Gerard Pique, who knocked off Real Madrid in the two sides’ preseason friendly in Miami, Fla., on Saturday.
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Messi opened the scoring with fewer than three minutes on the clock, finishing a quick counter-attack down the right side of the box with a quick cut inside and a fortuitous deflection.
Just as quickly as Messi made it 1-0, Rakitic made it 2-0, in the 7th minute. Luis Suarez touched Neymar’s cross past himself to the waiting Croatian, whose first-time, perfectly placed shot beat Keylor Navas with ease.
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Seven minutes later, Mateo Kovacic pulled Madrid back to within a goal. The 23-year-old Croatian slalomed past three defenders 25 yards out, squared himself to the goal and fired past Jasper Cillessen, who had no chance at making the save.
Nine minutes before halftime, Marco Asensio drew Madrid back onto level terms with a confident finish to complete a lightning-quick, three-on-two counter. Karim Benzema played the decoy as Asensio and Kovacic played the ball back and forth before Asensio slammed it home with Cillessen sent to his right and the shot to his left.
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Barca’s winner came five minutes into the second half, when Neymar’s free kick found a completely unmarked Pique at the top of the six-yard box. The finish was textbook as the 10,000 times he’s done it in training, and that was that — a 3-2 victory for Barca in the first “Clasico” played on foreign soil in 35 years.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has spoken out about the Neymar saga, stating that he and his fellow teammates are trying to lend their comrade a hand as he looks to sort out his future between Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain.
Speaking ahead of the El Clasico preseason match in Miami, Pique told reporters, “Neymar and I we are very close and I want him to stay and I know the situation. Right now he doesn’t know what to do and we are trying to help him, the ones [on the team] that are more close to him to take the right decision.”
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Pique was the source of intrigue a five days ago when he posted a Tweet with picture of himself and Neymar and the caption “He stays.” The defender was forced to clarify later saying that his post was only a hopeful prediction of the future rather than a bit of breaking news.
“It depends on what he wants,” Pique said at the pre-match press conference. “He can be in all the clubs in all the world. He can be in Paris, Barcelona, Chelsea or City. All the clubs will want him. It’s about your priorities. What do you want? Do you want more money? Do you want to win titles?”
Then, Pique used his knowledge of American sports to make a comparison, perhaps indirectly referencing Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. “It’s happening here and it’s happening in the NBA as well. There are some players that are not earning all the money that they deserve to win titles. So sometimes you have to take decisions in life and it’s all about priorities.”
Meanwhile, club captain Iniesta was also asked about Neymar, and he said he just wants a decision soon. “We [as players] just want peace which will benefit everyone – the players, the club and everything surrounding it.”
Former Barcelona defender Carles Puyol also spoke out about Neymar’s situation, telling Spanish publication Marca that he thinks Neymar should make his decision soon to erase the uncertainty.
We don’t have a ton of sympathy for them, but credit to Barcelona stars Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique for giving actual answers when put in the awkward position of hearing the media’s Neymar-to-PSG questions on Tuesday night.
PSG boss Unai Emery was far less interested in doing that.
Emery has refused to comment on speculation linking Neymar to big move to the Parc des Princes.
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Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s International Champions Cup match against Juventus, Emery had nothing of substance to say to the idea of Brazil’s captain heading to his stable.
“Our focus is to talk about the game tomorrow and a season to get ready for. I prefer to focus on the present moment and the preparation with the team.”
As for Edinson Cavani?
On the Barca side of things, Mascherano said he thinks Neymar will stay because he’s very important to the team, while Pique backed off a little after causing a stir by posting a photo of the defender with Neymar captioned, “He stays.”
“The post was nothing official, it was a gut thing, it doesn’t depend on me. Only (Neymar) can say what will happen, but I hope he stays. I tried to explain to Neymar, as a team-mate and a friend, the situation he’s in. I would say don’t go to a league which, with all due respect, is not as good.”
Boom, roasted (Though there’s some pot-kettle-black here, as there’s a fairly precipitous drop-off further down La Liga’s table, too).
While the entire world waits for official word — any word, really — on the possible world record-shattering transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, Gerard Pique just became the world’s most appreciated breaker of transfer news.
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Pique, Neymar’s teammate for four seasons at Barca, tweeted (and posted to Instagram) a photo of himself and Neymar, captioned, “Se queda,” or, “He stays.”
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Whether he stays or goes this summer, Neymar is about to get paid, and deservedly so. An unquestionable top-five (or -three?) player in the world, he doesn’t turn 26 for another seven months. There has to be someone awaiting the passing of the torch from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, both four years Neymar’s senior, some day soon(-ish), so it should come as no surprise that Barca appear to have moved heaven and earth to retain their Brazilian superstar.