MADRID (Reuters) - Lionel Messi’s four-goal masterclass in the 6-1 demolition of Eibar on Tuesday was warmly welcomed by Ernesto Valverde but held little surprise for the Barcelona coach.
The clinical Argentine Messi now has 11 goals in his last five games in all competitions and with record signing Ousmane Dembele injured and Luis Suarez rested, he put on a sensational show at Camp Nou to extend Barcelona’s La Liga lead.
“From a move where it looks like nothing is going to happen, he can create something good for us and bad for the opposition,” Valverde told reporters.
“Him scoring four goals isn’t news anymore. He’s done this time and time again, on many nights and in many games. He repeats it, he repeats it and he repeats it.”
Having coached Athletic Bilbao before joining Barcelona, Valverde has faced Messi multiple times, but for summer signing Nelson Semedo, experiencing the Argentine’s magic live is a relatively new sensation.
“Game by game he surprises us, there are no words for him,” said the Portuguese right back, who won the penalty which Messi converted for his first goal of the night in the 21st minute.
Messi’s second was a remarkably accurate finish inside Marko Dmitrovic’s far post just before the hour mark, while Paulinho played him in to stab home his hat-trick just three minutes later.
Barcelona’s rout was completed when Messi played a one-two with Aleix Vidal and tucked home in the 87th minute past the despairing Dmitrovic.
“He’s one of the most intelligent players I’ve seen on a football pitch. He’s extraordinary,” Valverde added on Movistar.
Denis Suarez, who scored and set up Paulinho with a corner for Barcelona’s second of the night, said: “Messi makes everything easy, he’s the best in the world, nobody has any doubt of that. I hope we can have him for a lot of time.”
Despite losing Neymar in the summer to Paris St. Germain, suffering frustration in the transfer market and seeing president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s reign questioned, Messi’s virtuoso displays have kept Barcelona top of the table with a 100 per cent record.
Cristiano Ronaldo is set to return for Real Madrid on Wednesday against Real Betis after his five-match domestic suspension, but Messi already heads the Pichichi chart of La Liga’s top scorers with nine goals.
Like Real Madrid, who are seven points behind the Catalans having played one less game, Ronaldo has to follow the trail Messi is blazing.
Editing by Ian Ransom