Lionel Messi scored his 400th La Liga goal on Sunday, a number his coach Ernesto Valverde called “monstrous”, as Barcelona terrorised Eibar to reclaim their five-point cushion at the top of the table.
Messi drove the ball into the bottom corner after being teed up by Luis Suarez, who added two goals to his own tally either side of the Argentinian marking another historic record at the Camp Nou.
“It’s monstrous,” said Valverde, after the match. “It’s easy to say but you have to score them one after the other, it’s a long-term job.
“His numbers are stratospheric, incredible. He is from another galaxy.”
Victory saw Valverde’s side restore their advantage over Atletico Madrid, who had briefly cut the gap to two points after beating Levante earlier in the day. Eibar, winless since November, drop to 16th.
“There is a lot of time left,” Valverde said. “It is a good cushion but nothing is done yet.”
Messi, meanwhile, extends his own hefty lead as the division’s all-time top scorer, which currently stands at 89 goals, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, now at Juventus in Italy, owns a better goals-to-game ratio, with his 311 strikes coming in 292 matches. Messi’s quadruple century arrived in his 435th.
At 31, the Barcelona captain is unlikely to make 500 goals but it is far from unreachable. He has 17 in the league already this season and is on course to finish top scorer for a sixth time.
In fact, this was one of Messi’s quieter nights in terms of performance and in another team it might have been Suarez or Philippe Coutinho picking up the plaudits.
Suarez assisted Messi, applied a classy finish and was on the end of a scintillating team move for Barca’s first.
– Sparkling Coutinho display –
Coutinho was the provider for that one and he delivered a sparkling display to appease those doubting his future at the club.
After returning from injury in December, the Brazilian has endured a spell out of Valverde’s preferred starting line-up but he converted a penalty against Levante in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, and was arguably man of the match here.
He alone supplied three passes in the build-up to Suarez’s opener. Arthur Melo started it, playing a one-two with Coutinho and then into the feet of Sergio Busquets.
Busquets pinged the ball left to Coutinho, who twice exchanged with Suarez before the Uruguayan, off balance, found the far corner.
Messi’s moment came in the 53rd minute and it was Suarez who started it, stealing back possession after a heavy touch from Anaitz Arbilla. He bounced it off Coutinho and found Messi, who touched and rifled in.
Barca were enjoying themselves as Coutinho flicked the ball over one opponent’s head and Suarez did the same through another’s legs.
The third goal was simple, however, as Sergi Roberto took a quick throw and freed the scuttling Suarez. With the goalkeeper out, he looked up and chipped the ball into the far corner.
– Griezmann fires Atletico to win –
The pressure had been cranked up a touch after Griezmann’s second-half penalty had earlier earned Atletico a 1-0 victory over Levante.
Griezmann has now scored all of Atletico’s last six goals and this latest one proved the difference in a cagey contest at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Atletico had 19 shots and, unusually for them, dominated possession, but they continue to rely on Griezmann’s excellent scoring run for points.
“We all pull the cart in difficult moments,” Griezmann said. “I cannot do anything without my team-mates.”
But, in their last five games, it is the Frenchman’s goals that have earned wins over Levante, Real Valladolid and Espanyol, while sparing them defeats away by Sevilla and Girona.
Griezmann was persistent in expressing his desire to win the Ballon d’Or in December but since the prize went to Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, he has hit seven goals in seven games.
Levante, who have not won in the league since December 3, stay 11th.