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Sep 2, 2013

A first half hat-trick from FC Barcelona's little Argentinian magician, Lionel Messi helped in edging past a resolute Valencia at the Mestalla. This was the first hat-trick of Messi in the season and we only had to wait five official games for it. All five goals of the match came in the first half, with Valencia hitting twice only in the injury time. In my FC Barcelona vs Valencia preview, I did write about how tough our previous visits to Mestalla have been. This one was no different with the rhythm swinging to and forth throughout the match. It was real end to end stuff, something we all expected and in the end these three points would feel pretty vital. We did have our negatives from the match, especially with Busquets injury. But it could work to our benefit as he could be left out of the National duties. Let's wait!

Martino went with a more or less similar line-up as I predicted in my preview. The only change was Alba's inclusion ahead of Adriano. The starting eleven had Valdes; Alves, Mascherano, Pique, Jordi Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi and Neymar. This was the first time Lionel Messi and Neymar started together and all doubts of whether the pair could gel together was put to rest soon. Neymar had a couple of good chances to open the scoring in the first ten minutes, but failed. He found the back of net pretty soon but was adjudged to be in offside position. The goal had to come and in the 12th minute Messi made it 1-0 with a bit of good fortune. The move started from Busquets finding Cesc in the middle, who slipped in a great ball releasing Messi on the run; the keeper rushed out to cut the angle and Messi's attempted loft struck the keeper, but fortunately rebounded back into his path. The goal enforced our control on the game and we were simply dominating possessions and chances. Iniesta and Neymar both had decent opportunities.

The goal looked like have shocked the Valencian players a bit, who started well but fizzled out after the goal. But towards the end of the first half we saw the classic Valencia coming back to life in the Mestalla. In the 38th minute they should have equalised had it not been another brilliant save from Victor Valdes. They were made to pay for that immediately with Messi adding Barca's and his own second goal of the night. It was a huge mistake from Valencia's Fuego who allowed Messi to steal the ball from his feet and after that there was only one out come. Within two minutes we made it 3-0 with Messi completing his hat-trick this time the provider was Neymar. At 3-0 the game looked as good as dead, and had to admit was completely different from the classic matches we had at Mestalla in recent times. One couldn't have been more wrong that that. Three minutes of injury time was awarded in the first half and we immediately saw why Mestalla is one of the toughest grounds for us to visit. In the first minute of injury time Valencia pulled one goal back with an exquisite volley from Postiga, nothing could have been done about that finish. But what happened in the last minute of injury time would have made Martino worried a bit. Valencia won a corner and a brilliant delivery into the near corner saw our defense left for dead and Postiga heading in his second goal of the night.

At 3-0 we were on top, but at 3-2 there was no doubt that Valencia was getting on top of our game. But it was us who threatened first after the restart. Pique saw his header saved by the keeper from a Lionel Messi free kick. The game struggled to get into the kind of rhythm we saw in the first half and both teams looked a bit nervous as a goal in either side would have tilted the game away. In the 66th minute Pedro had the best chance to seal the match but he headed wide from a good Iniesta cross. The game saw more half chances to sure but none clear cut opportunities till pretty late in the match. In the last five minutes of regular time Lionel Messi had two golden opportunities two put the game to rest but he flashed the first one wide and the second one was brilliantly saved by the keeper. We almost were made to pay for that with Jonas curler on the far post hitting the post. The rest of the time passed without much issue apart from the injury to both Mascherano and Busquets.

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