Lionel Messi scored his first goal of the season as Barcelona beat Sevilla 4-0 on Sunday to climb into second place in the La Liga standings behind Real Madrid but ended the game with nine men as Ousmane Dembele and debutant Ronald Araujo were sent off.
The victory saw Barca leapfrog Atletico Madrid into second place on 16 points, two behind leaders Real who they meet in three weeks’ time at the Camp Nou. Atleti are third on 15 after drawing 0-0 at Real Valladolid on Sunday.
Barcelona rode their luck in the early stages of the game as Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla made an ambitious start but failed to take their chances while the Catalans were ruthlessly efficient and scored three times in eight first-half minutes.
Luis Suarez gave the champions the lead with an outstanding bicycle kick in the 27th minute and their Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal then got a crucial touch on a tame shot from Arthur Melo to double the lead in the 32nd.
Frenchman Dembele, who started ahead of 120 million euro ($131.76 million) signing Antoine Griezmann, made it 3-0 in the 35th with a superb solo dribble and finish.
Barca captain Messi scored from a free kick in the 78th to finally get off the mark in a season blighted by injuries but there was a sour end to the game for Ernesto Valverde’s side.
Uruguayan defender Araujo had made his debut by replacing the injured Jean-Clair Todibo but was sent off 14 minutes later for a last-ditch challenge on Javier Hernandez, while Dembele was dismissed for protesting the decision.
Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz explained in his report that he showed Dembele a straight red card for saying “very bad, you are very bad” and waving his arms at him.
The forward will be suspended from Barca’s next La Liga game at Eibar and is in danger of missing the ‘Clasico’ against Real, as players who have said similar words to referees in recent seasons have been handed two-game bans.