Barcelona 3 Atletico Madrid 0: Messi's magic starts another rout for Barça

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The Independent Football

They were slow off the blocks but Barcelona are now fully in their stride and it is difficult to see who might knock them out of it. It was certainly too big a task for Atletico Madrid who were well beaten inside the first 45 minutes of this encounter here last night.

The Barcelona, coach Frank Rijkaard, recalled Ronaldinho after a three-match absence – three games in which Barça had scored 10 goals and collected maximum points.

An inspired Leo Messi had been the major reason why the Brazilian had not been missed and Messi it was who jump-started this display. After 10 minutes he was a hero in his own penalty area with a last ditch tackle on Mariano Pernia just as the full-back was about to shoot. For Pernia it was the first and last time he had the Barcelona forward on the back foot.

The sometime Spain international left-back, was turned inside out by the Argentine throughout the first half and booked after a late challenge on 14 minutes.

Seconds later Messi's dominance of Pernia brought about the first goal. He skipped past him after running onto a pass from Deco. Messi's cross was too close to the goalkeeper Christian Abbiati but the Italian spilled it and Deco, who had continued running after his pass started the move, finished from close range.

A majestic Messi pass then set up Henry only for the Frenchman to shoot wide before it was Ronaldinho's chance to combine with Barcelona's No 19 with the move that extended the home side's lead.

The two worked the tightest of one-two's on the edge of the Atletico Madrid penalty area and Messi finished with a shot inside Abbiati's left-hand post for his sixth league goal in six league games.

A big scare for home fans came when the captain Carles Puyol, starting his first game for four months after recovering from a knee injury, needed attention. Despite worried groans from home fans it was to a head wound and not a recurrence of his injury.

Barcelona should have gone in three up at the break. First Ronaldinho shot wide after another fine Messi pass then Deco was beaten by the bounce as he tried to finish an exquisitely lofted pass from Henry.

Atletico Madrid swapped the disappointing Jose Antonio Reyes for Maxi Rodriguez early in the second half and the substitute stung Victor Valdes' hands with a shot from distance that he had to palm away for a corner.

But at the back Atletico's defence were still seeing stars from the first half and Deco, Puyol and Henry all had the chance to extend Barcelona's lead.

For all his running the ball was not quite dropping for Henry and, when it did, Abbiati was there to deny him – getting down low to his left to turn the Frenchman's shot round the post.

The visitors' keeper was at full stretch again to keep out Deco's drive minutes later as Barcelona looked for a score to reflect their dominance. Henry was taken off with four minutes remaining to rapturous applause, just as had Ronaldinho just moments earlier.

Both continue to live in the shadow of Messi, who hit the post with the clock running down, but for as long as Barcelona are this emphatic that is something they will happily accept.

Giovanni Dos Santos, the man who replaced Ronaldinho, crossed for Xavi to make it three at the death.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes, Oleguer, Puyol, Milito, Abidal, Xavi, Iniesta, Deco, Messi, Henry (Krkic, 86), Ronaldinho (Dos Santos, 81). Substitutes not used: Crosas, Gudjohnsen, Jorquera (gk), Sylvinho, Thuram.

Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Abbiati, Seitaridis, Pablo Ibáñez, Ze Castro (Eller, h-t), Pernia, Reyes (Rodriguez, 55), Maniche, Raul Garcia, Simao, Aguero (Luis Garcia, 63), Forlan Substitutes not used: Lopez, Falcon (gk), Jurado, Loureiro.