I missed the first few matches of the season for personal reasons (good ones, fortunately), but I returned in time to catch a delayed version of Barça-Atleti and what a show it was. The best defense in the league versus the best offense turned out to be something of a one-sided affair that really could have been a lot worse than its final score of 5-0.
Certainly Atleti was complicit in their own demise, at least in the first half when they sat back and often failed to challenge Xavi in possession: that lack of pressure created David Villa's first goal (though nifty footwork was still required of the Asturian striker) and a host of other chances. Fabregas nearly scored a brilliant chip from distance thanks to a complete lack of off-the-ball marking that left him alone in a good position. But it was also Barcelona's brilliance that put them solidly ahead when Messi smashed in the third after a brilliant, mazy run that left the defense scratching its head.
The second half was a different story; Gregorio Manzano introduced Arda Turan and Salvio for Mario Suarez and Jose Antonio Reyes and the difference was obvious immediately as midfield pressure meant more possession for los colchoneros, though it meant precious little danger for Barça's backline. Tiago had hit the crossbar in the 4th minute after a defensive breakdown, but it wasn't until the 61st minute that they managed another attempt and that just a glancing header from a largely anonymous Falcao.
Whatever progress Atleti had made between halftime and the 78th minute was erased by another brilliant Messi run though the heart of defense that result in yet another goal that couldn't possibly have been scored. Atleti keeper Thibaut Courtois could only watch the ball roll by him, having covered all the angles he could; the same was true of Diego Godin, who doubtless thought he'd done enough to keep the ball out, but countless keepers and defenders can attest to Messi's ability to find the slightest of angles and put the ball just right.
And just in case anyone was concerned that he could only do it twice in a game, in the last moments of added time, Messi did it again. He played a slick one-two with David Villa and raced into the box to slot the ball between Courtois' legs, confirming his hat trick and taking him top of the league scoring chart with 8 in just 5 games. He is also credited with 5 assists by ESPN, though assists statistics are hardly the science they are in other sports.
The match ensures Barça will be 2nd in the table behind Real Betis as they travel to Sporting Gijon to take on the worst team in La Primera next weekend. First, though, is a Champions League trip to Belarus to face BATE Borisov, the current Belarusian champions. BATE qualified by beating Irish side Linfield, Lithuanian side Ekranas, and finally Austrian side Sturm Graz. The Group H table is currently all knotted up at 1 after BATE and Viktoria Plzeň drew 1-1 in the Czech Republic on matchday 1.