Messi treble stretches Barca lead over wasteful Real

Ernesto Valverde banks on debutant Ousmane Dembele to make instant impact against Espanyol

Lionel Messi scored a sensational hat trick as Barcelona continued their ideal start to the La Liga season with a 5-0 victory over city rival Espanyol in the Catalan Derby on Saturday.

Fantastic geometry from the home side's forwards saw Messi and Suarez interchange, before Deulofeu had to intervene and squared for the little magician, who coolly swept home for his hat-trick.

The opener arrived from the expected source but Messi should have been flagged offside before controlling Rakitic's immaculate pass, cleverly turning David Lopez and rifling into the top corner.

The Argentine wizard scored his second nine minutes later as he slid in Jordi Alba's low centre.

Dembele has the unenviable task of replacing the departed Neymar and Barca's 105 million-euro man had to wait until 22 minutes from time for his debut as he replaced Gerard Deulofeu to a standing ovation.

FW Ousmane Dembele, 7 - Handed his Barca debut with just over 20 minutes to play and showed a glimpse of what his new supporters can expect with a great pass for Suarez's goal.

From there, Barca never looked back.

However, the club have come in for some criticism for their transfer dealings, president Josep Maria Bartomeu also facing a vote of no confidence.

Club-record signing Dembele set up Luis Suarez to complete the scoring after Gerard Pique headed a fourth from Ivan Rakitic's 87th-minute corner and Real Madrid's 1-1 draw at home to Levante earlier on Saturday means Barca hold a four-point advantage over the champion after three matches. "We need to think about it".

The hosts were dealt another blow midway through the first half as Karim Benzema limped off and with no other natural striker on the bench, Bale was forced to play as an auxiliary centre-forward.

The Spanish forward came close to doubling the lead from a free kick which whistled past the near post but Real pulled themselves level in the 36th minute when Lucas Vazquez tapped in from close range after Levante goalkeeper Raul Fernandez could only parry a header from Sergio Ramos.

And then there was Gareth Bale. Toni Kroos nearly cut through the gloom to clinch it when he rattled a post deep into stoppage time.

Valverde had a two-year spell as an Espanyol player between 1986 and 1988, reaching the 1988 UEFA Cup final, and later guided Barcelona's city rivals to the 2007 UEFA Cup final, where they also lost on penalties, during a two-year tenure as coach.

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