Suarez hat-trick extends six-goal Barca's La Liga lead

Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Barcelona, Spain Feb 25, 2018, 03.19 AM (IST)

Luis Suarez hit a hat-trick and Philippe Coutinho scored a brilliant first league goal for Barcelona as the La Liga leaders thrashed Girona 6-1 on Saturday to open up a 10-point lead at the top of the table.

Lionel Messi continued his return to goalscoring form with a double to reach 30 in all competitions for the season, as Barca extended their advantage over closest title rivals Atletico Madrid, who visit Sevilla on Sunday.

It was the perfect outing for Barcelona after ninth-placed Girona had taken a shock early lead on their first-ever visit to the Camp Nou, as Coutinho, Suarez, Messi and Ousmane Dembele shone on their first start together.

Portu took advantage of hesitation from Barca centre-back Samuel Umtiti to round goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and slot into an empty net to put Girona ahead in La Liga's newest Catalan derby.

The hosts took less than two minutes to get back on level terms, though, as Messi collected the ball in midfield before sending Suarez through to score.

Messi's wizardry put Ernesto Valverde's side in front on the half-hour mark after Suarez touched down a long pass from Andres Iniesta for the Argentinian.

It looked as though the chance had gone when Messi was forced wide, but the league's top scorer showed trademark footwork to jink past several defenders before slotting into the bottom corner.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was running the show, and he doubled the advantage just seven minutes later with a low free-kick under the wall.

"It always seems that he has done everything and then suddenly, he surprises us again, as with his free kick. It sounds easy but it is not," said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.

Having gone five games without a goal before his crucial equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea in the Champions League in midweek, Messi has scored three in two games.

Barcelona's fourth goal came on the stroke of half-time with Girona's defenders left begging for the interval after Messi's perfectly-weighted pass found Coutinho to square for Suarez to tap in.

The Catalan giants eased off slightly in the second half, but Coutinho got off the mark in the league in style as he cut inside and curled a long-range strike into the far corner.

French winger Dembele played his part too late on as he crossed from the left for Suarez to complete a hat-trick.

After a slow start to the campaign, the Uruguayan forward has now scored 17 goals in his last 14 league matches.