Messi fresh after rare break

Barcelona icon returns with hat-trick in pre-season

Lionel Messi: Has enjoyed a long rest this summer and has returned with a hat-trick

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Lionel Messi believes he is fresher than ever after enjoying a good pre-season with Barcelona, free of international commitments.

Since 2008, the World Player of the Year has seen summers interrupted by a World Cup, a Copa America and an Olympics but he has been able to focus on getting fit for the new season this time around.

The 25-year-old told El Mundo Deportivo: "I haven't been able to do a good pre-season for a long time because I always arrived late. It has been very good to have such a long rest."

Messi scored a European record 72 goals last season and was back among the goals on Sunday - netting a hat-trick in an 8-0 win over Raja Casablanca.

It was Messi's first game under new manager Tito Vilanova and he thinks the transition following the exit of Pep Guardiola has been smooth.

"The way of training has continued in the same way and we are working with the same people so we haven't noted any changes," he added.

"We are in pre-season and so you notice the tiredness. They kept the ball well and made us run a lot but we will get better with every game.

"We are training very hard and we have to continue like that to arrive in the best shape possible for the important matches."

Difference

Vilanova hailed Messi's impact as well as the role of Barca's young players in a convincing win.

The new coach told the club's official website: "When you have the world's best player, who has this capacity to score goals, he usually marks the difference. He proved it once again.

"The young players also always deliver and they played at a very high level."

One man who didn't feature was David Villa as he continues his recovery from a broken leg suffered in December but Vilanova believes he is making progress.

"We're talking about a serious and long injury," he added. "When he's ready to play, we'll welcome him with open arms. He's made a lot of progress in the last month."