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 the Spanish La Liga football title. Messi was supposed to be lacking fitness and Barca struggling for form, but both delivered a resounding response at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with two matches against Real Madrid just around the corner.
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.
“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.”
Luis Suarez needed a goal after a disappointing performance against Lyon in midweek and Messi arranged that too. It was his pass that Suarez converted for a fourth, after Jesus Navas and Gabriel Mercado had twice put Sevilla ahead in the first half.
Sevilla’s top-four hopes look increasingly uncertain but for Barcelona, this was one of the toughest tests left in their run-in, with perhaps the most difficult to come next weekend, against Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.