Barcelona have stretched their 100% start to the 2017-18 La Liga season to six matches following a 3-0 victory over Girona in Catalonia on Saturday night.
The historic match saw Catalan rivals Girona and Barcelona meet for the first time in the league, and it proved to be a comfortable night for the visitors, who have moved four points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.
There were three on-loan Manchester City players in the Girona XI, with Douglas Luiz, Aleix Garcia and Pablo Maffeo all included, but Marlos Moreno and Larry Kayode were both on the bench.
Former Middlesbrough attacker Cristhian Stuani was also on the bench for the home team, with on-loan Guizhou Zhicheng attacker Michael Olunga leading the line. A three-man defence, meanwhile, included Bernardo Espinosa, who joined the club in a £4m move from Middlesbrough during the summer.
As for Barcelona, head coach Ernesto Valverde made six changes from the team that started against Getafe last time out. Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez and Aleix Vidal all came into the XI, with Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets among those dropping to the bench.
It was the visitors that carved out the first chance of the match in the fourth minute, but Vidal could not find a route past Girona goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz, who was down well to make the save.
Luis Suarez was next to come close for Barcelona after meeting a low cross from Andres Iniesta, but the striker’s effort was always wide as Girona survived another dangerous moment inside their own box.
Girona’s first real attack of the match arrived in the 10th minute, and Garcia had a decent strike deflected wide of the post as the home side settled into the contest. Another opportunity arrived in the 12th minute when Luiz struck one from the edge of the box, but Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was down to make a smart save.
Five minutes later, Iraizoz had to be alert to keep out a long-range Messi free kick, but Barcelona took the lead from the resulting corner as Alba’s long-range strike, which looked to be heading wide, was somehow deflected into his own net by Girona captain Aday.
Girona had their moments on the counter-attack, but Barcelona were always the more threatening in the final third, and Iraizoz did well to keep out a close-range effort from Alba 10 minutes before the break, before Rakitic had a powerful strike deflected just wide of the post.
Paulinho was next to come close for the visitors – the Brazilian heading a Rakitic corner wide of the goal in the 36th minute as Girona survived a host of pressure late in the first period to enter the half-time interval just 1-0 behind.
Messi, who was man-marked by Maffeo until the Spaniard departed late on, had a half-chance in the early stages of the second period after breaking into a one-on-one situation with Iraizoz, but the Girona goalkeeper made another smart save.
Barcelona had their second of the night in the 48th minute, however, when Vidal’s flick, which looked to be a cross for Luis Suarez, somehow ended up in the back of the net. As it transpired, Girona stopper Iraizoz was credited with the own goal after replays demonstrated that Luis Suarez had stepped over the Vidal flick at the final moment.
Olunga had a decent chance to register for Girona in the 55th minute after meeting a deep corner, but the number 14 saw his header saved by Ter Stegen during a good spell for the home side.
Barcelona killed the game in the 69th minute, however, when Luis Suarez beat the offside trap before carefully placing the ball into the bottom corner as the Uruguay international netted just his second league goal of the campaign.
Luiz was comfortably Girona’s brightest player on the night, and the Brazilian had another decent strike deflected wide of the post in the 78th minute as the home side looked to give their supporters something to cheer late on.
Pere Pons then had a brilliant chance to score for Girona in the final moments, but the midfielder fired wide of the post from inside the Barcelona box as the visitors kept their clean sheet in tact.
Barcelona will now switch their attention to the Champions League as they prepare to travel to Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night. Girona, meanwhile, are next in La Liga action away to Celta Vigo on Friday night.