Barcelona put in their best performance since La Liga returned on Sunday, defeating Villarreal 4-1 away from home with Lionel Messi setting up two of the goals.
The two assists for the Argentine put him on 19 for the season - the highest tally of his career so far.
What was Messi's overall display like?
📷 Match Snapshot
This was undoubtedly the most effective game from the Messi-Luis Suarez-Antoine Griezmann combination since the turn of the year, and perhaps of the entire season.
From the opening whistle, the trio looked sharp and dangerous, combining with neat touches and passes in and around the penalty area.
Playing in the No. 10 position behind a natural front two of Suarez and Griez, Messi was naturally the orchestrator, and set up Barca's second goal midway through the half.
A ⏱️ 20' After embarking on a signature run through the middle, holding off numerous challenges while running at pace, Messi slid the ball to the left of the box for Suarez, who finished with a glorious whipped strike into the top right corner. The Argentine's assist really was something special, a superb display of strength, close control and direct running.
A ⏱️ 45' Shortly before half-time, he would earn his record-breaking second assist, bursting down the left of the penalty area only to quickly halt his run with a clever backheel into the path of Griezmann. From there, the Frenchman scored the goal of the night with a delightful chip up and over the keeper from 18 yards.
Messi would put the ball in the back of the net himself for a deserved goal, but VAR would eventually rule it out after Arturo Vidal was deemed offside in the build-up.
He seemed desperate to get on the scoresheet, testing Sergio Asenjo late on before smashing a free-kick off the crossbar.
He had more touches than any other player in this round of La Liga fixtures with 113, and was also in the top five for passes completed with 81/91 successfully reaching a team-mate.
Even though Messi comes deep to receive the ball a lot more often now, his passes are more often than not advancing the play forward. No less than 41 passes were sent into the final third, which is far superior to the next highest player on the list - Marcelo of Real Madrid with 29.
Overall, his contributions earned him a 9.4 FC Rating.
〽️ Rating Week-on-Week
It is perhaps natural that Messi would be less effective against the dogged defending of Atletico Madrid, as he was as he recorded a 7.9 FC Rating for that match after scoring once.
Against Villarreal, he prospered in the increased space awarded to him, with his two assists boosting him up to a 9.4 FC Rating.
🗝️ Key Stats
Messi match stats
|FC Rating||9.4||🏆 FC Man of the Match|
|Touches In Box||8||Rank #1|
|Final Third Passes||41||Rank #1|
Perhaps the championship race isn't over yet, after all. Yes, Real Madrid have a four-point cushion at the top of La Liga now, but Barcelona will be buoyed by the manner of this victory against Villarreal as if they play to this standard they can beat anyone in league, even Los Blancos.
Madrid have been lucky recently with a few VAR decisions going their way and narrow victories aided by awarded penalties.
Should that luck run out, it isn't inconceivable that Barca could leapfrog them into first. Should they do it, Messi will be at the heart of it.