BARCELONA // Thierry Henry has not enjoyed the easiest of times since leaving Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007. The injuries which marred his final 18th months in North London meant he wasn't match fit when he arrived in Catalonia, yet he was asked to play from the start to cover for the injured Samuel Eto'o.
The once exhilarating Frenchman cut a forlorn figure and complained that he was being played out of position and needed time to adjust to a new style of football. Compounding his difficulties were problems in his private life and the realisation that he was no longer the main man who took penalties and free-kicks. Barca fans watching a faltering side wanted to love Henry, but remained underwhelmed, even with his respectable 19 goals in 47 games.
Fortunately, Henry has started this season more like the player who scored 226 goals in eight years at Arsenal. The departure of Ronaldinho in the summer has aided his situation, but on Saturday against Valencia, it was the absence of the suspended Eto'o which helped the Frenchman. Playing in the central attacking role he has always desired, Henry enjoyed his finest moment in a Barca shirt so far, scoring a hat-trick in a sublime 4-0 victory over a team previously unbeaten away from home in the league.
Marauding right-back Daniel Alves, who also enjoyed his best Barca game, scored the fourth as the rampant Catalans produced a performance of such dominance that Valencia's international stars David Villa and David Albelda were reduced to peripheral bystanders. After a crowd of over 85,000 - by far Barca's biggest of the season - sang Henry's name, the Frenchman said: "The crowd enjoyed it and so did we. Some of our passing and movement was very quick. We're playing very well and hurting opponents, but we haven't won anything yet. Personally, though, I'm very happy."
"Henry has said, 'here I am, I'm a great footballer'," enthused coach Pep Guardiola. "He was simply extraordinary tonight." Valencia's coach Unai Emery added: "It was a fair result and showed how far Barca is above every other team." Barca's next opponents in the league are Real Madrid on Saturday. Second placed Villarreal came from behind to grab a 3-3 home draw with Getafe. The visitors raced into a 3-0 lead within 30 minutes thanks to goals from Esteban Granero, Jaime Gavilan and Francisco Casquero. A Robert Pires goal made it 3-1, before Sebastian Eguren reduced the deficit to one goal in the 83rd minute. Giuseppe Rossi levelled in the 85th minute and nearly grabbed a dramatic late winner in a thrilling encounter. In the day's other game, Atletico Madrid scored a convincing 2-5 away victory over Sporting Gijon.