Messi scored a hat trick and reached 400 career goals in Barça's derby win over Espanyol. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.

Leo Messi’s hat trick helped erase an early 1-0 deficit and lead FC Barcelona to an exhilarating 5-1 derby victory over city rivals RCD Espanyol on a blustery Sunday afternoon at Camp Nou.

Early deficit

In the first quarter hour, Espanyol’s Sergio García took advantage of a Barça lapse, leading a two on two break and depositing a low shot past a diving Claudio Bravo for an early 1-0 lead.

The play started when Sergio Busquets lost the ball in midfield after a possible foul. The Barça players were looking for the whistle as Espanyol raced up field to the surprise of a stunned crowd.

Barça went right back to work and pushed deeper into Espanyol’s area in search of the tying score.  Messi sent a free kick clanging off the crossbar in the 28th minute, while Jordi Alba and Luis Suárez also had excellent chances to knot it up.

Espanyol had one other dangerous chance as a Víctor Sánchez breakaway was stopped by Claudio Bravo. The Chilean keeper raced out of the net to make a superb head-on stop and keep it a one-goal game.

A brand new game

With the first half coming to a close and the referee getting ready to blow the whistle, Barça finally got the equaliser. Suárez and Xavi Hernández combined to feed Messi, who sent the ball just inside the right post.

For Messi, it represented his 400th career Barça goal, another amazing achievement. And it came at an opportune time, bringing Barça even at 1-1 just seconds before halftime.

The second half was barely underway when Messi struck again in the 50th minute. Neymar charged up the field and found Suárez along the sideline. He centred to a cutting Messi who finished with class.

And just two minutes later, Ivan Rakitic took a Barça corner and found a stealthy Gerard Piqué lurking in the middle of the area. Piqué redirected with his head for a 3-1 lead.

Pedro Rodríguez then added Barça’s fourth goal in the 77th after taking a brilliant long ball from Alba and marching all alone in on goal, finishing nicely to extend the lead. Pedro celebrated by going back down the field to thank Alba for the set up.

Déjà vu

And in what has become something of a habit, Messi finished off the scoring with his third goal of the day.

With just under 10 minutes left, Pedro and Messi combined on a give and go, with the Argentinian using his soft touch to find the back of the net. Messi’s hat trick put the icing on the cake and sent the raucous crowd of 76,057 fans into a frenzy.