Barcelona tied Real Sociedad’s long-standing record of 38 games without defeat with a win against Leganes. Led by the little Argentine, Barcelona brushed aside Leganes’ challenge to secure another three points and to, at least temporarily, increase their league lead. Lionel Messi was without a shadow of a doubt the star of the game, scoring all three goals for Barcelona, with Nabil El Zhar scoring for the visitors.
With the match against Leganes in the middle of a very tough stretch for Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde didn’t disappoint and rotated quite heavily. Nelson Semedo started at right back, though Sergi Roberto still played, this time at left back, and Thomas Vermaelen played alongside Gerard Pique. Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho played on the flanks while Andre Gomes and Ivan Rakitić filled up the middle. The attack, however, was unchanged.
As was largely expected, Barcelona dominated play from the opening whistle, but Leganes’ defense was well organized and allowed the hosts very little in the early going. The visitors’ defense was so stingy that Ivan Cuellar didn’t have to make a save until the 17th minute when Coutinho fired a dangerous shot on goal. Two minutes later, Luis Suarez made something out of nothing, but his flick just missed the target. Just moments later, Suarez made nothing out of something. Dembele’s brilliant ball created a two-on-none for Messi and Suarez. The former unselfishly found the latter, but Suarez fired straight down the middle, hitting Cuellar who was given a chance to make a save he had no business making.
Barcelona were slowly starting to open up Leganes’ defense. Messi then had two opportunities from free kicks about five minutes apart. The first one, from the left side he sent into the wall. The second one, in the 27th minute from just about his favorite spot, he curled over wall and out of Cuellar’s reach for the lead.
Four minutes later, the Argentine was in action again, doubling Barcelona’s lead. Rakitić forced the turnover before Coutinho found Messi with a lovely ball and with a couple touches Messi set himself up for a shot in between two Leganes defenders. Messi fired low and inside the near post and Cuellar was once again left with no chance. Barcelona were cruising and were allowing little to nothing to their opponents. Leganes did attack on a couple occasions in the first half, but the Catalan defense handled everything with relative ease and the halftime break came with Barcelona up by two.
The visitors threatened for the first time quickly after play resumed as a cross from the right side found substitute Claudio Beauvue inside the area, but the forward’s header whistled just over the crossbar. The Madrid-based side looked much better after Beauvue joined play and the Guadalupe-born player looked through on goal just minutes later, but Vermaelen made a brilliant diving tackle to stop the attack.
While Leganes’ mini-stretch didn’t last long - Barcelona were quickly back to controlling the game through possession, but with the healthy lead there was little urgency in their play – as if they were already conserving energy before a difficult trip to Rome. However, Barcelona were made to pay for their lackadaisical play in the 69th minute. The visitors launched a semi-dangerous attack that led to El Zhar firing from the edge of the area to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The German appeared to have been on the ball, but the shot redirected off of Roberto and ter Stegen was left with no chance.
Barcelona looked to respond in the 73rd minute when Semedo sent a lovely ball forward to spring Messi. Going alone on goal down the right wing, Cuellar went out to meet him, and on the very edge of the area the Spaniard made a fantastic save to deny Messi’s lob attempt. On the following stoppage, Jordi Alba replaced Roberto.
In the 81st minute, Suarez missed another chance from up close, this time after a nice assist from Dembele, as despite a good opportunity, the Uruguayan couldn’t finish the play off. Moments later Andres Iniesta took Coutinho’s place on the pitch.
Both Barcelona and Leganes would launch promising attacks in the final ten minutes of the match, but only Barcelona would find the back of the net. With time running out and Leganes slightly opening up their ranks in their search of the unlikely equalizer Barcelona found more space in attack. The Catalans used it to perfection in the 87th minute when Dembele found Messi inside the area. The Argentine brilliantly skipped past his marker before successfully lobbing the goalkeeper from five yards out to complete the hat trick.
Immediately after the goal Denis Suarez joined play in place of Dembele. Three minutes were added on, but they were, apart from a chance for Pique, largely uneventful and Barcelona extended their unbeaten run – now record tying. Next up for Barcelona is the return leg against Roma in the Champions League.