MADRID: Messi-inspired Barcelona came from the back conceding early to goal towards the Copa del Rey quarterfinals with a 4-1 win over nine-man Espanyol on Wednesday.
Espanyol held the European champions 0-0 in last three meetings and bullied early on through Felipe Caicedo’s composed finish.
Yet, the Argentine took just four minutes to level the score.
Messi scored a stunning free-kick in off the underside of the bar just before half-time providing a lead to Barcelona.
The Argentine provided two brilliant assists to Gerard Pique for a third and then Neymar for a spectacular volleyed finish in to the bottom corner of the net, in last three minutes helping Barca a commanding advantage ahead of the second leg on January 13.
However, Messi was lucky to escape without being seriously injured after being violently stamped on by Espanyol goalkeeper Pau Lopez without any action taken by the officials before Hernan Perez and Papakouli Diop were dismissed.
“The referees are the ones to set the limits. They are responsible for ensuring this is football and not American football,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique of Espanyol’s roughhouse tactics.
Arda Turan was handed his Barca debut after four months, as the Catalans were banned to get new players registered until January.
A wonderful through ball from Andres Iniesta ensured the lead was ephemeral as Messi provided a cool finish past Lopez.
And there was little the ‘keeper could do to stop a bullet of a free-kick from fully 30 yards.
Brilliant passes from Iniesta and Messi then helped Pique for an easy finish.
Espanyol lost their control and composure in the final quarter as Lopez somehow escaped with a conspicious stamp on Messi inside the area before Perez and Diop were sent-off in a four-minute spell.
And Neymar finally made the visitors pay when he scored a volley home after a brilliant one touch scooped pass from Messi.