Madrid: Lionel Messi scored four goals to take his La Liga tally to 50 this season as Barcelona hammered Espanyol 4-0 on Saturday in an emotional last game at the Nou Camp for outgoing coach Pep Guardiola.
Messi netted twice from the penalty spot, once from a free kick and the other was a low finish into the corner following a thrilling breakaway.
After notching his fourth from the spot, a record 72nd goal in all competitions this season, the World Player of the Year ran to the touchline and hugged Guardiola while the rest of the squad gathered to join them in a huddle.
Guardiola is leaving at the end of the campaign, to be replaced by assistant Tito Vilanova, after winning 13 trophies in four seasons including two Champions Leagues. He has one La Liga away game and the King’s Cup final against Athletic Bilbao left before he goes but the crowd gave him a huge send-off in the city derby, with a huge banner hanging from the stands saying ‘We love you Pep’.
Messi made it 1-0 with a curling free kick which took a slight deflection off the wall after 12 minutes and then doubled the lead with a penalty in the 64th. The Argentine saved his best for the third as he sprinted away to score and another penalty soon after rounded off the rout against mid-table opponents with nothing left to play for.
Guardiola was ushered on to the pitch at the end and given a microphone to address the crowd. “To feel so loved these four years, you don’t know how happy that makes me feel,” he said, choking back the tears. “Thank you everyone, especially those nearest to me. I am leaving you in good hands.”
Second-placed Barca have 90 points with one match left, seven behind Real Madrid who won 2-1 at Granada with a weakened side. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a penalty, his 45th goal in the league this season, and Granada’s David Cortes put through his own net at the end to leave Real on course for a record 100 La Liga points.
Jonas scored in added time to give Valencia a 1-0 home win over Villarreal that secured them third place and the last automatic qualifying berth in the Champions League for the third year in a row. Valencia have 61 points and Malaga are fourth on 55.
Real Mallorca occupy sixth place on 52 points after their 1-0 win over Levante who are seventh.
At the foot of the table, the five clubs still in danger of relegation will take their battle to the final day next weekend after second from bottom Sporting Gijon and third from bottom Real Zaragoza won and the three sides above them all lost.