BARCELONA • Trust Lionel Messi to pull another wonder strike out of his party bag of tricks.
The "panenka" is one of the most impudent techniques in football, and the Barcelona forward took it to another level on Saturday by applying it to a free kick against Espanyol.
Social media went wild after his dinked opener put his side on course for a 2-0 win at the Nou Camp - he also scored their second - keeping the Spanish champions 10 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga.
It was a fitting way for Messi to mark his 675th Barcelona appearance, which moved him ahead of Andres Iniesta into second on the club's all-time list - 102 adrift of Xavi Hernandez.
Afterwards, his manager Ernesto Valverde admitted that he "had no idea he would hit (the free kick) like that".
The Spaniard said: "I would love to say that we had planned it, but it's not true, it's up to him. He didn't need my opinion and he scored."
Although Messi made a low-key return for Argentina after ending his exile from the national team during the international break, playing his first game since the World Cup last June, Valverde was delighted there was no hangover.
He added: "Messi is the same player no matter what team he is playing in. He would be the same if he played in Australia. We are delighted to have him, it's a luxury for me to coach him."
The Barcelona talisman has now notched 41 goals in all competitions this season - the 10th straight year he has recorded over 40 strikes.
The 31-year-old, whose side are unbeaten in 17 league games, also joined former Real Madrid captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas for the most number of victories in LaLiga (334).
Atletico, who will visit Valverde's men in the league on Saturday, kept alive their faint hopes of winning the title after a 4-0 away thrashing of Alaves.
Saul Niguez, Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata and Thomas Partey all got on the scoresheet and, post-game, Saul promised he would "fight to win the league for the fans".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS