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Lionel Messi scored two goals in the first half and had two assists in the second as FC Barcelona vanquished cross town rivals RCD Espanyol 4–1 on Wednesday night at Camp Nou in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 tie.
Centre-back Gerard Piqué notched Barça’s third goal less than five minutes into the second half and Neymar scored Barça’s fourth in the 89th with Espanyol down to nine men following a pair of late expulsions. Messi set up both goals.
The victory gives the Catalans a robust aggregate lead in the two-leg tie, with the second match set for next Wednesday at Cornellà-El Prat.
Wednesday’s goal glut meant even more to Barça from a psychological standpoint, as they were able to move past last Saturday’s disappointing goalless draw with Espanyol in La Liga, which was the first of three derbies in an 11-day span. The second leg will be the third clash of 2016 between the intra-city rivals.
Espanyol got on the board first, going up 1–0 at the nine-minute mark when Felipe Caicedo slotted home after Dani Alves botched a pass in Espanyol territory and Marco Asensio carried all the way into the Barça area. Asensio split the Barça defence and fed Caicedo, who masterfully spun around defender Javier Mascherano before pulling the trigger.
The Camp Nou went eerily silent and, as FCB head coach Luis Enrique stood still on the sideline, the look on his face was one of pure bewilderment.
But the crowd got right back into it when, four minutes later, in the 13th, Messi drew FCB even after taking a beautifully threaded pass from Andrés Iniesta and shooting from right around the penalty spot, easily beating Espanyol Goalkeeper Pau López.
Messi’s second came in the 44th when he blasted a free kick from just shy of 30 metres that clanged off the underside of the crossbar and ricocheted straight down, bouncing hard off the ground just inside the goal line and back up into the top of the netting.
Messi had set up the kick seconds earlier when he was tripped up while trying to evade a pair of defenders on a run from the right wing.
FC Barcelona made it 3–1 before the second half was even five minutes old when Piqué sneaked behind the Espanyol defence to deposit a perfectly timed assist from Messi. Messi had broken away from a defender to receive a pass from Iniesta before sending a low cross through the goalmouth, with the stealthy Piqué arriving just in time.
In the 73rd minute Espanyol suffered a serious blow to any chance at a comeback when they went down to 10 men. Defender Hernán Pérez was shown his second yellow card for holding up full-back Jordi Alba while attempting to break free on the left wing.
To make matters worse for the Periquitos, just four minutes later, in the 76th, Papakouli Diop received a straight red card for excessive trash talking away from the ball.
Pérez and Diop, who are regular starters for the Blanquiazules, will both be suspended for the return leg in Cornellà-El Prat.
Neymar made it 4–1 a minute from time with a spectacular one-time shot after a textbook wall pass from the foot of Messi, his second assist of the night.
The victory means that FC Barcelona have now won 11 of their last 12 games in the Copa del Rey.
Espanyol go home for the return leg knowing they need at least three goals while holding Barça scoreless in order to move on to the quarter-finals.
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