Four-star Barca back in the groove
Last Updated: 06/01/13 8:15pm
Messi celebrates against Espanyol
Tito Vilanova returned to the Barcelona bench with the minimum of fuss on Sunday night as his side got all of their work done inside the first 30 minutes of the Catalan derby.
Manager Vilanova, back at the helm after a brief spell out for surgery on his parotid gland after contracting cancer for the second time, was given the easiest of nights as his stellar cast of players made life comfortable for him.
They had scored all of their goals by the time the 30th minute ticked by and after that it was procession football, with Pedro twice denied a hat-trick by the offside flag while other chances also passed.
After Xavi had opened the scoring, Pedro then chimed in with his brace before Lionel Messi set off on his pursuit of 100 goals this year with a penalty.
The Argentinian scored a record-breaking 91 times in 2012 and is expected to go even further this time around. His only regret will be that he did not make the most of the leisurely second-half conditions.
The writing was on the wall for Javier Aguirre's side early on, with Xavi's goal setting the template for how Barca would play all night.
Messi slid a pass through to Andres Iniesta on the left, the cut-back arriving for Xavi to tap in from close range, and he opened his body slightly to make the finish.
Three minutes later Messi and Cesc Fabregas combined to release Iniesta but he was denied by Francisco Casilla, but the keeper could do nothing as Pedro got his first in the 15th minute.
Again it was from a cut-back, this time from Fabregas, and at first it looked as though it was Messi's goal, with replays then showing Pedro got the slightest of touches to his shot.
It was three with 27 minutes gone, Pedro racing onto Sergio Busquets' defence-splitting pass and lobbing Casilla, and the keeper was all at sea again a minute later as he bundled over Fabregas as he went away from goal.
Messi duly stepped up and converted from the spot, the first goal of what will no doubt be many this year.
The brakes were applied a little after that, with Espanyol defending better and Barca not as incisive. Casilla denied Fabregas and a flag denied Pedro a 65th-minute hat-trick when Fabregas, crossing after Messi's pass, was called offside.
The same thing happened again with 17 minutes left as Pedro chipped wide to Alves and then followed in to score from the cross, while Espanyol's only real chance ended with Victor Valdes saving from a clean-through Juan Albin.
Messi then rattled the bar with a 25-yard free-kick, but after such an early rush, there would be no more goals as Barca restored their 16-point lead over Real Madrid.
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