By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Lionel Messi was like a "child playing in the playground" as he scored a hat-trick to inspire Barcelona's 4-0 thrashing of Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday, his coach Luis Enrique said.
Making his first start in a month after recovering from a groin injury, Messi set the tone for another virtuoso performance with a storming run through the middle of City’s half before calmly dribbling past Claudio Bravo to score.
The floodgates opened once former Barca goalkeeper Bravo was sent off for handling outside the area and Messi toyed with City’s defence to smash the ball past compatriot Willy Caballero.
The five-times world player of the year sealed a second hat-trick of the season by tucking home a Luis Suarez cutback and was tripped by Aleksandar Kolarov in the dying minutes, although Brazilian forward Neymar missed the resulting penalty.
"We saw Messi play like a kid in the school playground today," Luis Enrique told a news conference.
"Any other player would be shaking (after coming back from injury) but if we have come to expect anything from Messi, it's that.
"It doesn't matter how long he's been out for or how many games he’s missed, he has a total understanding of football. Anyone who ever doubts Messi is naive.
"Those of us lucky enough to see him train every day know what he does. He helps in every sense and he is a reference point for us, without a doubt."
Messi's latest exhibition following a two-goal masterpiece against Bayern Munich, managed by Guardiola, in a Champions League semi-final first leg in 2015.
"Since I've known him he's always done things like that and he keeps doing it," said Guardiola.
"This is not the first time he's done this, I've seen him do it many times live before, but you have to congratulate him."
Barcelona lead Manchester City by five points after three matches in Group C.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)