Ousmane Dembele made his Barca debut as a late sub and instantly made his mark with an assist
LIONEL MESSI settled the Barcelona derby singlehandedly by firing a hat-trick past Espanyol.
The world’s greatest player – when Cristiano Ronaldo is out of earshot – finished the game in with his third on 67 minutes, leaving time for Ousmane Dembele to mark his debut with an assist
Barca went top following the magic man’s treble – and strikes from Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez – with nine points from three games with seven scored and none conceded.
The Catalonians were humbled by bitter rivals Real Madrid over two legs in the Spanish Super Cup in mid-August, losing 5-1 on aggregate.
But they have shaken off that disappointing pre-season defeat to mount another assault on the La Liga title with their main man back in the driving seat.
Espanyol had their first chance of the game on 24 minutes when Leo Baptistao weaved his way into the Barca box before getting the yips.
And his side was punished ruthlessly seconds later when Messi pounced to break the deadlock.
Ivan Rakitic played the ginger-bearded genius the ball – while he was a yard offside – and he teased Espanyol defender David Lopez until he fell flat on his backside before smashing home.
The Rakitic-Messi dream-team then combined with a one-two and the Croatian drew a fabulous save from Espanyol keeper Pau Lopez.
Barca’s second goal had a touch of slapstick about it as Espanyol fell apart at the back.
A heavy attempted clearance smacked Pape Diop square in the face and fell to a grateful Jordi Alba who teed up Messi for a tap-in.
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Rakitic then went close again, this time with his head, but nemesis Lopez once again saved.
Espanyol were two down but not out but, when Pablo Piatti hit the woodwork and then missed a sitter, they looked doomed.
And they were out of the game on 67 minutes when Messi completed his milestone after Luis Suarez and Alba had linked up.
Dembele – whose fee has the potential to rise to £135.5m – was sent on for a jolly on 68 minutes and he got straight in on the act by setting up Suarez for a goal just three minutes after Gerard Pique had headed home a Rakitic corner.
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