Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick and provided two assists as Barcelona comfortably dispatched Levante 5-0 on Sunday evening.
Barcelona were second best for much of the first half and they were very fortunate not to fall behind when Emmanuel Boateng crashed a close range effort against the woodwork on the half hour mark.
Ernesto Valverde's men responded well to that scare and soon punished the home side for wasting such a golden opportunity. Lionel Messi danced his way into the box before delivering a wicked reverse path into Luis Suarez, who volleyed the ball beyond the despairing Oier Olazabal in the Levante goal.
Moments before half-time, Messi was involved again, this time finding the back of the net himself. Sergio Busquets intercepted the ball in midfield and played a perfectly weighted pass to Messi, who ran through and passed the ball home.
Messi wasn't done there. Straight after the restart, he notched his second goal of the night with an effortless finish from inside the 18-yard box, following a deflected pass on the left flank from Jordi Alba.
As was almost inevitable, Messi then went on to grab the hat-trick. Arturo Vidal was the provider this time, squaring the ball across the box for Messi to guide the ball into the net from inside the six yard box.
Levante's night turned from bad to worse as they were reduced to ten men with 15 minutes left on the clock. Erick Cabaco was given his marching orders after a rough challenge on Ousmane Dembele.
Barcelona compounded the host's misery by making it five in the closing stages. Messi played a precise pass into Gerard Pique and the centre-back produced some neat footwork before rolling the ball home.
That was the final action of an entertaining match which will be remembered for Messi's sheer brilliance.
Key Talking Point
However, for quite some time it appeared that winning wasn't exactly going to be straightforward. Up until Suarez's opener, Barca looked off the pace and were being played off the park by a Levante side who seemed to be full of verve and confidence.
It took some individual brilliance from Messi to turn the tide in Barca's favour and, once they doubled their lead, the game ended up being a walk in the park.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (7); Pique (7), Lenglet (6), Vermaelen (5); Rakitic (6), Vidal (6), Busquets (7), Alba (6); Messi (10*), Dembele (7), Suarez (7).
Substitutes: Arthur (6), Coutinho (6), D. Suarez (N/A).
Star Man - Lionel Messi
There is nothing that can be said about Messi which hasn't already been said a million times over. He scored a hat-trick, becoming the highest scoring player in Europe's top five divisions for 2018/19 whilst also becoming the first player to reach 50 goals for the calendar year. And that's not mentioning his two assists.
He is just really, really good at football isn't he?
Messi involved in ALL 5 goals tonight.— Juan (@socraticjuan) December 16, 2018
Don’t ever compare him to any player again.
Leo Messi scores another hatrick , meanwhile the grass is green, water is wet and the sky is blue — Emma Follis (@emma_foll) December 16, 2018
Lionel Messi is the first player to score 50 goals across all competitions in 2018 pic.twitter.com/inHOuFPRA0— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 16, 2018
Three goals and two assists for Messi today. More than my entire @OfficialFPL team managed put together— Rik Sharma (@riksharma_) December 16, 2018
Worst Player - Thomas Vermaelan
Perhaps a tad harsh, but Vermaelen did look a little shaky whilst he was on the pitch and he ended up being hooked off by Valverde just ten minutes into the second half, as the Barca manager switched up his formation.
Barcelona will now be looking ahead to another La Liga clash at the weekend when they welcome Celta Vigo to the Camp Nou on Saturday.