Lionel Messi scored his 34th La Liga hat-trick for Barcelona on Saturday – equalling a record originally set by Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Argentine genius netted three as Barca steamrolled Celta Vigo 4-1 at the Camp Nou, helping Ernesto Valverde’s reclaim top spot.
The three points will come as a huge relief to Valverde after last week’s banana skin defeat to Levante, as well as Barca’s midweek Champions League stalemate against Slavia Prague.
Messi worked his usual magic to remedy those recent frustrations and, in fitting fashion, struck home two delectable free-kicks.
His left-footed curlers came either side of half-time, leaving Celta goalkeeper Ruben Blanco clutching at straws, while also keeping Barca ahead of bitter adversaries Real Madrid on goal difference.
A penalty-kick in the 23rd minute preceded the set-piece masterclass that would soon unravel in Catalonia, while Sergio Busquets completed the rout in the 85th minute.
As he took home another La Liga ball, this one would have felt special, as he has now equalled Ronaldo’s record for the most hat-tricks scored in Spanish top-flight history.
Adding further fuel to the Messi vs Ronaldo debate, the diminutive phenom can now look to swing the pendulum in his favour by breaking that hat-trick record.
In the immediate aftermath, Valverde couldn’t contain his admiration for the No. 10 maestro, lauding not only his wonderment with the ball at his feet, but also his desire and determination.
“With Leo, anything is possible,” Valverde said. “[Taking free kicks] is something that he’s mastered to perfection. Because of this, the opponent can’t commit fouls on the edge of their own box. If they do, we try to take advantage.
“Messi, apart from scoring goals, has a commitment to the game.”
This record-equaling feat is just the latest marker in an illustrious catalogue of accomplishments for Messi, and with no discernible signs that the 32-year-old is slowing down, that list is set to continue to grow.
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