Barcelona flying high thanks to record-breaking Messi
The Argentina captain, already the all-time La Liga top scorer, netted his 23rd hat-trick
Lionel Messi claimed a share of two more of the few Spanish soccer records he does not already own with another stunning performance on Sunday that underlined Barcelona's credentials as possible treble winners.
The Argentina captain, already the all-time La Liga top scorer, netted his 23rd hat-trick in Spain's top flight in a 5-0 demolition of Levante at the Nou Camp, matching the record set by his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo earlier this season.
Messi has 31 trebles in all competitions for Barca, tying the most scored for a Spanish club set by former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra, while Ronaldo has 27 overall for Real.
Messi's assist for Neymar on Sunday was his 106th in his 300th La Liga appearance, overhauling former Barca and Real midfielder Luis Figo who held the previous best of 105 since records began in 1990.
"What can I say about him?" Barcelona forward Pedro told reporters after Messi's latest masterclass.
"It is a privilege to have him as a team mate and share a dressing room with him," added the Spain international.
"He is a unique and different player and is always surpassing himself. He has ambition to remain the best."
Messi's scintillating recent form, which has coincided with a Ronaldo slump, has helped Barca cut Real's lead at the top of La Liga to one point and put them on the verge of a place in the King's Cup final.
They are through to the last 16 of the Champions League against Manchester City and, with Messi on song, some Barca fans are starting to believe the club can repeat their 2009 treble under former coach Pep Guardiola.
Sunday's victory was their 11th in a row in all competitions, matching Guardiola's best run at the end of 2008, but current coach Luis Enrique played down the achievement.
"I didn't know we had matched that record but it doesn't interest me," Luis Enrique, who was Barca B team coach when Guardiola was in charge of the first team, told a news conference.
"We will make our evaluations at the end of the season and if we win titles it will be great," he added.
Barcelona's players have two days off before returning to training on Wednesday to prepare for Malaga's visit in La Liga on Saturday.