Lionel Messi delivered an incredible dead-ball hat-trick on Saturday to steer Barcelona to a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo and ease the pressure on beleaguered coach Ernesto Valverde.
Messi scored with a penalty and then a pair of sumptuous free-kicks either side of halftime after Lucas Olaza had briefly pulled Celta level with a free-kick of his own at Camp Nou. Sergio Busquets drove home to make sure of the win late on.
A 34th treble in La Liga puts Messi equal with Cristiano Ronaldo, while a much-needed win sends Barca above Real Madrid on goal difference and back to the top of the table at the end of a testing week.
Barcelona’s disgruntled fans had whistled their team against Slavia Prague in midweek and when Olaza equalised for Celta, that tension and restlessness threatened to return.
Instead, Messi took command, this hat-trick taking his tally to nine goals in seven games, 612 in total for his club.
Messi scored his penalty in the 23rd minute after Joseph Aidoo had blocked Nelson Semedo’s cross with his hand.
It was Messi that conceded the foul for Olaza’s curling free-kick that was well-hit enough to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen, even if the goalkeeper might have been disappointed not to be able to get across.
There was little Celta keeper Ruben Blanco could do about Messi’s efforts, the first in stoppage time before the interval and the second three minutes after the restart.
They were almost carbon copies of each other, bending over the wall and nestling in the top right-hand corner.
Celta, under their new coach Oscar Garcia, never looked like mounting a comeback and Busquets put the result beyond doubt with a low shot five minutes from the finish.
Real’s players might have been watching on their way home from Ipurua, where they went three up inside 29 minutes, Sergio Ramos scoring a penalty between two Benzema strikes, the second also a spot-kick after Ramos delegated to his teammate. Fede Valverde added a fourth in the second half.