Lionel Messi records his first hat trick of season to help Barcelona cruise
Lionel Messi warmed up for Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony by scoring his first hat-trick in 10 months as Barcelona eased to a 4-0 win over Granada to return to the top of the Primera Division.
The Argentine netted twice in the opening quarter of an hour and completed his treble after the break, pouncing after Neymar had hit the post, but the Brazilian was able to get on the scoresheet late on to complete the rout.
Luis Enrique's side go one point ahead of Atletico Madrid at the league's summit, though the Rojiblancos can leap above them again when they face Celta Vigo on Sunday.
It had been an eventful week for Barcelona, who avenged their goalless draw at Espanyol last weekend with a resounding 4-1 win over their neighbours in the Copa del Rey. The latter game witnessed 10 bookings and two red cards, both for Espanyol, while Luis Suarez was later banned for two cup matches for an incident in the tunnel at half-time.
And on Friday, Dani Alves poured fuel on the fire with a tirade against the Spanish press on social media, which the club quickly condemned.
Alves started on the bench against Granada, with Aleix Vidal making his first start for the Catalans. Arda Turan kept his place in the line-up at the expense of Andres Iniesta after making his full debut in the cup tie with Espanyol.
Granada have never won at the Nou Camp in their 85 year history and it soon became clear they would have to wait at least another year.
Messi spotted Turan's run on the left of the box and threaded the ball to him before dashing for the middle of the area, where he was picked out by the Turkey international, who slid the ball through the legs of Agbo Uche for Messi to tap into the net.
The Argentine got his second goal in the 14th minute, turning the ball in from the tightest of angles after Suarez knocked Neymar's cross to the far post with one touch.
It was the fastest Messi had scored two goals in a league game since 2007, when he grabbed a brace in 10 minutes against Zaragoza.
Suarez should have scored himself later in the half after combining with Neymar and Messi but somehow shot wide of an open goal with his left foot.
Messi could also have found his third goal before the break, but failed to get enough power on a cutback from the lively Vidal.
Granada made a better start to the second period, limiting Barca's forward play without causing too many headaches for Claudio Bravo.
But Messi got his third goal in the 57th minute. Aided by a clever dummy by Turan, Sergi Roberto threaded the ball into the path of Neymar, who made for the near post and struck the frame of the goal, and Messi was there to pass the ball into the empty net and take his tally in the league to nine goals.
Messi's first hat trick of the season was also his 25th in his La Liga career, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo's 28. Since Messi returned from his knee injury, he has scored 12 goals with five assists in 11 games in all competitions.
Neymar got in on the act with nine minutes remaining, slamming the ball into the roof of the net after another fine piece of work by Messi, who began the move with the help of Alves before leaving it for his team-mate to finish off.