Lionel Messi hit a sumptuous hat-trick, the 50th of his career, to inspire Barcelona to a 4-2 victory over Sevilla.
Lionel Messi hit a sumptuous hat-trick, the 50th of his career, to inspire Barcelona to a 4-2 victory over Sevilla on Saturday and take them one step closer to winning La Liga.
"We cannot always be at our best," Messi said afterwards. "We came from a streak when, to be honest, we weren't playing our best football. If the game flows it is easier to score goals."
It was his 44th hat-trick for Barca, with 32 coming in La Liga, eight in the Champions League, three in the Copa del Rey and one in the Spanish Super Cup. He has also struck six trebles for Argentina.
Messi was supposed to be lacking fitness and Barca struggling for form but both delivered a resounding response at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
After scoring 11 goals in nine games, Messi's thigh strain had coincided with a dip by his own high standards, one goal in four prompting concerns he was being pushed too far.
But the Argentinian was back to his scintillating best, this his 44th treble for Barcelona, now the joint most for a Spanish club alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, rounded off by a trademark chip late on.
Sevilla are Messi's favourite victims, and last year he came off the bench to score twice in two minutes and rescue a 2-0 draw from 2-0 down.
"It's always tough to win here, we know what it is like to come to this stadium and how good Sevilla’s players are, they made things very hard for us by taking the lead but we knew how to overcome all that," Messi said.
"Messi is decisive and superlative, every team has decisive players but we have the best in the world," said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
"It's not just his goals either, but because he always delivers in the right place at the right time."
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde made two attacking changes at the start of the second period by introducing Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto.
"This is not the title almost won but it was important to win today," Messi said. "It gets harder towards the end and it is never easy here. Today we were back to being us."
As a return to form for Barca and Messi, there was a return to the team for Samuel Umtiti, the defender handed his first appearance in three months after recovering from a knee injury.
Barcelona now have 57 points in La Liga after Saturday's win, 10 more than second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Following the stunning win over Sevilla, the entire team is looking well prepared for the upcoming important matches.
Real Madrid and Barcelona face two Clasicos in four days next week.