BARCELONA (Reuters) - Lionel Messi proved his ability to excite has no foreseeable expiry date by producing a virtuoso display as Barcelona thrashed Espanyol 4-1 in a local derby on Sunday and team mates and opponents were equally enthralled by his magic.
The five-time world player of the year produced two exhilarating solo runs in the space of a minute in the second half which lead to Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba scoring and capped his stunning display with a deserved goal late on.
“In the second half we saw the most spectacular version of our attacking players, particularly Messi, and we should never stop praising him,” said Barca coach Luis Enrique.
“It looks routine but we should not get used to it because it’s something unique.”
Messi’s brilliance inflicted the heaviest defeat since August on Espanyol, who went into the game boasting the most in-form La Liga defence, having conceded once in their previous six games.
After the Argentinian was finished with them, they had shipped as many goals as they had in their last nine games.
“Messi is capable of constantly changing every game he plays in, he’s the only player you could imagine scoring a hat-trick in every game,” said Espanyol coach Quique Sanchez Flores, who approached the forward after the game.
“I congratulated him for his humility, he never complains, he gets kicked, he gets thrown to the floor, it’s amazing. We have a good relationship, I’ve lost count of how many times people have asked me to get hold of his shirt.”
Messi, 29, will return to Argentina on Monday after Luis Enrique gave permission to his maestro plus Suarez, Neymar and Gerard Pique, to miss Wednesday’s King’s Cup, last 32 second leg at home to Hercules so they can travel to South America.
The first leg against the third-tier side finished 1-1.
Suarez laid on the pass for Messi’s late goal and said he felt guilty about scoring the second, which was created by his strike partner’s mesmeric run past five defenders.
“I would have preferred for him to have completed his amazing move rather than me scoring it, it was like a PlayStation move,” he said. “Messi is a unique player.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Ken Ferris