NOU CAMP: An imperious display, even by Barcelona standards, crushed Celtic before a Nou Camp crowd who witnessed history in the form of a hat-trick for Lionel Messi - the 40th in his career and a Champions League record sixth for the Argentine maestro. His efforts were supplemented by goals from the usual contingent - Andres Iniesta, Neymar and
Luis Suarez - as Barca went top of Group C, a status that they would surely have enjoyed even had Manchester City's meeting with Borussia Monchengladbach not been rained off.
Very rarely can any team have experienced such a swing from being masters of their local universe - as Celtic were after their frolic in the Old Firm derby - to a side chasing shadows vainly for most of this non-contest.
Celtic's exultation at their dismantling of Rangers at the weekend had been kept in check by the prospect of facing the ultimate forward line of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Brendan Rodgers adjusted Saturday's winning selection to field a back five, with Cristian Gamboa brought in to play at right-back, with Mikael Lustig, Kolo Toure and Erik Sviatchenko as central defenders and Kieran Tierney on the left.
Scott Brown and Nir Bitton sat deep in front of the back line with Patrick Roberts and Scott Sinclair instructed to funnel infield alongside them whenever Barca had the ball - which was for the bulk of the proceedings - leaving Moussa Dembele to plough his lonely furrow as the only outright attacker.
Luis Enrique took responsibility for Barca's weekend home defeat by Alaves, having felt he could afford to leave Messi, Suarez and Iniesta on the bench. Iniesta was kept on the sidelines for this encounter but the other two were recalled, a move which was to pay an immediate dividend. The manner of its execution called to mind the proverb which says that if you want to make him laugh tell God your plans.
Barca countered Celtic's defensive five by supplementing their own front three with Ivan Rakitic and Andre Gomes and won a corner on the left, from which the ball made its way to Neymar, lurking on the flank.
Glancing up, the Brazilian, seeing that Gamboa had been sucked out of position, measured a pass through the gap for Messi, who strode into the box. Even as Gamboa tried to cover his embarrassment with a futile claim for offside, Messi whipped back his left foot and lashed his finish behind Dorus de Vries.
Messi was only getting into his stride, though, as he demonstrated with a breathtaking chip which lanced across the penalty area and skipped off the turf a fraction ahead of Suarez's straining boot at the back post. The tone had been set for an evening which would present Celtic with a profound contrast to their Old Firm derby dominance.
With a temperature of 26C (79F) and a sweat-inducing degree of humidity, it was not a night conducive to the amount of chasing Celtic would be forced to undertake. They were, however, handed a wholly unforeseen opportunity to haul themselves back to parity when Roberts cleverly set Dembele on an angled run between Marc-Andre ter Stegen and his back line. The goalkeeper dived to send the French forward tumbling for a penalty kick, an offence which also earned Ter Stegen a caution.
Dembele claimed the conversion for himself and remained immobile and impassive as Ter Stegen went through the ritual diversionary antics. When he stepped forward, though, the striker hesitated just before striking the ball and the consequent lack of power in his attempt made it simple for the keeper to get down to his left to block.
To pass up such a gift against Barca is to invite condign punishment, which was delivered within moments when Messi played a couple of one-twos with Neymar and walked the ball into the net behind the stranded De Vries.
Celtic were now engaged in the limitation of serious damage, an exercise which proved far beyond their capacities in a one-sided second half, which began with Iniesta added to the mix in place of Rakitic. Five minutes after the restart Neymar found the mark with a vicious free-kick from just beyond the edge of the box, although De Vries could have done better than getting a limp glove to the ball. His defenders were unable to produce anything better by way of intervention when a fast passing move let Iniesta in to finish for Barca's fourth.
The blaugrana were now in exhibition mode and the home fans were ecstatic when, scarcely a minute after Iniesta's contribution, Suarez burst clear to cut back for Messi to complete his hat-trick with a delicate touch. At this stage time seemed to have gone into reverse for Celtic, who still had to endure a further half-hour of torment.
Suarez, however, was anxious to get on to the scoresheet and did so in regal fashion, killing a Neymar pass on his chest before swivelling for a left-foot volley beyond De Vries. It was Suarez who turned the screw to the extreme in the dying seconds when, after having hit the post, he turned the ball home from Messi's prompt, leaving Celtic battered and dishevelled, with the hardly less daunting prospect of Manchester City to come in Glasgow at the end of this month.