A 17 minute hat trick from Lionel Messi fired Barcelona to second in the La Liga standings as L'equip blaugrana hammered Real Mallorca 5-0 at the Camp Nou.
After a disappointing 0-0 draw at Sevilla the previous week, in which Lionel Messi missed a last-gasp penalty, followed by a lacklustre 1-0 win away at lowly Granada, Barcelona were in need of a convincing performance in order to re-assert their title credentials. Mallorca had been one of only three sides to have avoided defeat at the Camp Nou the previous campaign.
Pep Guardiola decided to rest some of his stars for the upcoming Champions League tie against Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday night; fielding a makeshift midfield of Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Busquets and Seydou Keita and continuing his faith in promising academy product Isaac Cuenca.
Barcelona began in their archetypal free-flowing fashion but it was Mallorca who had the first goal-scoring opportunity of the match; Joao Victor flashing a shot wide after connecting with a low cross from the left. Chances against the European and Spanish champions are hard to come by and the exasperation etched on the striker's face was evident for all to see.
And Mallorca were made to pay for spurning their earlier opportunity when Barcelona were awarded a penalty five minutes later courtesy of a handball from Emilio Nsue from Adriano's deft flick. Lionel Messi, with the burden of having missed a spot kick a week ago still on his shoulders, fired the ball into the roof of the net, giving his side a priceless early lead. Messi reacted by pointing to the camera, raising three fingers and smiling, which acted as a comical jibe to those critics who had berated him for not having scored in his previous three matches.
Villa should have doubled the lead only a minute after the restart when played through by Lionel Messi but his attempt was turned away by Aouate. Barcelona had smelt blood and were desperate to inflict further havoc upon the Mallorca defence.
Soon enough, Barcelona did stretch their lead to 2-0; Lionel Messi netting his 12th league goal of the season. Isaac Cuenca beat his man on the right flank before sending a deep cross from the byline which was turned back across goal by Adriano; leaving Messi with the simple task of converting from a few yards out with his right foot.
Messi was putting on a scintillating display and secured his hattrick after only 29 minutes. Dani Alves advanced with the ball down the right flank before whipping in a superb cross which was emphatically finished by the Argentinian, whose clever run and side-footed volley capped a brilliant move. Barcelona were once again in irresistible form as Mallorca struggled to cope with the fantastic overlapping energy of Adriano and Alves from deep.
It was Messi's 199th goal for the club and his 13th hat trick in Barcelona colours, an astonishing record for a player who still has many promising years ahead of him.
Seydou Keita almost scored a rare goal just before the interval but his long range attempt just evaded the right-hand post as Barcelona left the pitch to rapturous applause with a comfortable three goal lead.
With Tuesday's Champions League encounter in mind, Barcelona understandably took their foot off the pedal in the second half but that did not prevent them from extending their lead only five minutes into the second period. The fantastic Adriano cut inside from the left flank before threading through an inch-perfect pass to Isaac Cuenca, who rounded the keeper and finished with aplomb. It was a special moment for the 20 year old, who had twice left Barcelona only to be recalled once again by Guardiola, whose faith had been rewarded.
The popular centre-back combination of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique were introduced to the fray for some much-needed game after being hampered by recent injuries but in truth, the Barcelona backline remained untested throughout the match.
Messi had a freekick tipped around the post by the pink gloves of Aouate and from the resulting corner, Pique's shot was cleared off the line.
However, Barcelona completed the scoring in the 92nd minute with a golazo from Alves. After being clattered by a strong defensive challenge, Messi played a quick freekick to the Brazilian who ran towards the corner of the box before smashing a dipping drive against the underside of the crossbar and into the net.
It signalled a 32nd goal in ten league games for Guardiola's side who move above Levante who lost 2-0 away at Osasuna but remain behind Real Madrid who defeated Real Sociedad 1-0. The 5-0 victory also signalled an eighth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions, making it 787 minutes since Victor Valdes last conceded a goal. The club record currently stands only 38 minutes longer by Miguel Reina.
In his post-match conference, Guardiola was proud of his teams performance and hailed youngster Isaac Cuenca. "We rediscovered our goalscoring touch," said Guardiola. "Isaac played very well, he is a guy who is good at taking players on and passing. He scored his first goal in the stadium and has played very well so congratulations [to him]...A kid who has left the club twice and returned is one who has something special."
Lionel Messi was quick to refute claims that he had experienced a dip in form. "It's crazy to say I was in crisis, just because I'd gone three games without scoring. I'm not interested in how many goals I can score or not - what matters is that the team won."
FC Barcelona will be hoping to book their place in the Champions League Knockout Stages on Tuesday when they face Viktoria Plzen after having defeated the Czech side 2-0 only a fortnight ago.