BARCELONA • Lionel Messi was unsurprisingly showered with praise after he delivered an incredible dead-ball hat-trick to steer Barcelona to a 4-1 La Liga victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday.
The Argentinian forward scored with a penalty and then a pair of sumptuous free kicks either side of half-time after Lucas Olaza had briefly pulled Celta level with a free kick of his own at the Nou Camp.
Sergio Busquets drove home to make sure of the win late on.
A 34th treble in La Liga puts Messi equal with Cristiano Ronaldo, while a much-needed win sends Barca above Real Madrid on goal difference and back to the top of the table on 25 points after a testing week.
"It is impossible not to depend on Messi, he illuminates everything," said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
"We depend on him like any team would depend on him. He unlocked the game. He dominates the art of free-kick taking, and opponents know they cannot afford to give away fouls near our area."
Real had briefly claimed first place after continuing their own goal surge by hammering Eibar 4-0, a game in which Karim Benzema scored twice and Eden Hazard exploded into life.
Hat-tricks Lionel Messi has scored in La Liga, levelling Cristiano Ronaldo's efforts with Real Madrid.
But while Zinedine Zidane's men appear to be hitting their stride, Barcelona's momentum had stalled. After losing to Levante and failing to break down Slavia Prague in the Champions League, scrutiny had again turned on Valverde and his future as Barcelona coach.
Barca's disgruntled fans had whistled their team against Slavia in midweek and that tension and restlessness threatened to return when Olaza equalised for Celta.
Instead, Messi took command, this hat-trick taking his tally to nine goals in seven games, 612 in total for his club.
"When it's tight we have the advantage of having the best player in the world and the best free-kick taker in the world," said Busquets.
Yet his precision from free kicks is a skill the 32-year-old has worked on and improved in recent years, his conversion rate currently at four goals from his last seven attempts in the league.
The last time a player scored a hat-trick from set-pieces in La Liga was when Messi himself achieved the same feat in 2012 against Espanyol (free kick, two penalties).
In Eibar, Benzema's double was trumped by a creative masterclass from Hazard, who created the first two goals, on top of a brilliant nutmeg, a 'rabona' cross and too many glides past defenders to count.
"His first half was very impressive," said Zidane, whose team also scored through Sergio Ramos (penalty) and Federico Valverde.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS