Lionel Messi scored one and set up two more goals as Barcelona picked up where it left off before a three-month stoppage for the pandemic, beating Mallorca 4-0 to extend its Spanish league lead on Saturday.
Messi was as quick and dominant as ever despite not having played a match since early March. He showed no signs of being slowed down by the right leg muscle pain he suffered last week that put his return in doubt. He darted past defenders with ease.
Messi and the other starters behaved and played as normal on the pitch, hugging after first-half goals by Arturo Vidal and Martin Braithwaite and not maintaining social-distance recommendations during cooling breaks.
The game was played without spectators as part of the league's health protocols to limit contagion risks, but that did not stop one man from invading the pitch briefly in the second half.
Messi nodded on a ball for Braithwaite to get his first goal since joining Barcelona midseason to double the second-minute opener by Vidal. The Argentine forward assisted Jordi Alba before he scored on his own in stoppage time.
Once Messi probed Mallorca for its weaknesses, he began taking opponents on. Messi dribbled past four defenders in one run down the middle of the pitch in search of another goal, before halftime gave the hosts a breather.
The Spanish league became the third major European league to resume when Sevilla beat Real Betis on Thursday. Germany started last month. Italy resumed cup action on Friday. England gets underway next week. France went the other route and declared Ligue 1 over.
Barcelona increased its lead to five points before nearest challenger Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday. After this round there will be 10 matches left in an accelerated finish to the season.
Vidal put Barcelona in charge before Mallorca had even touched the ball in the match at San Moix Stadium. Alba found Vidal to head home his cross after muscling past his marker.
Braithwaite doubled the lead in the 37th when Messi knocked a ball into his path.
Messi went close to setting up Braithwaite again in the 59th. A minute later Messi crossed for defender Ronald Araújo to hit the post in his first start for the club.
Messi passed for Alba with a perfect on-touch lob to meet his left back’s run and leave him all alone to beat goalie Manolo Reina in the 79th.
Luis Suárez, who benefited from the long league stoppage to recover from right knee surgery, was with the rest of Barcelona’s reserve players, wearing face masks and sitting in the stands with several empty seats separating them. The Uruguay striker went on as one of five allowed substitutes.
Suárez laid off for Messi to speed around two defenders and fire in his right-footed shot into the top corner to complete the commanding victory.
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In an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of matches, international television viewers were shown a feed of the match with digital “fans” superimposed on the vacant stands and recorded cheers similar to those used in video games played over the authentic audio track. Spanish television audiences can choose to watch the direct feed or the one with visual and sound effects.
The sound effects include cheers when a team recovered a ball or had a promising attack. But they also included cheers for the goals scored by the visiting team.
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