Pictures: No stopping magical Messi

Lionel Messi Argentina

Lionel Messi offered his adoring fans a recital at the Camp Nou, combining sublime play with expert marksmanship for Barcelona against Rayo Vallecano.

Just how do you stop the magical presence of Lionel Messi? A wizard with the ball at his feet, many have tried and many have failed. That was the case for Rayo Vallecano, who despite having several players around him at the Camp Nou on numerous occasions, couldn't prevent the Argentine star from reaching yet another milestone in his career.

An early goal from Luis Suárez had Barcelona in the lead, though visitors from Madrid had managed to contain Messi for much of the first half. 

The second half was a different story however, when Gerard Piqué grabbed the second for Barcelona, who were now piling on the pressure. A red card for Tito and a penalty would be the straw that broke the camel's back and any further resistance from Rayo.

Messi stepped up and amidst doubts about his abilities from the spot, having had a penalty saved against Manchester City in the Champions League recently, the same happened again, as Cristian Álvarez chose the right direction. However, after the initial frustration for Messi, the referee ordered it re-taken. Rayo players had been encroaching in the area.

At the second attempt, Messi didn't make the same mistake twice, whipping his penalty confidently beyond the Rayo keeper. Goal 28 for the Argentine in La Liga.

Goal 29 quickly followed in the 63rd minute and as easily as you like, thanks to the craft of Luis Suarez as the Rayo defence buckled once more and though his initial effort was parried, Messi was left free to prod the ball into an empty net.

Lionel Messi put himself level with Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo on 30 goals for the current season, with another goal that looked oh so easy for the little maestro. Jordi Alba this time with a dangerous ball into the area and once it was at the feet of Messi, there was no stopping him. He wriggled between the two Rayo centre-backs, then rounded the keeper, prodding his finish into the back of the net.

Hello to the record for hat-tricks in La Liga. Hellow to the top of La Liga, with three points that propel Barcelona to the top of the table, surpassing arch-rivals Real Madrid, ahead of 'El Clásico' in a fortnight.

Messi dedicated the hat-trick, the record and the match ball, to his little boy Thiago.

The best ever tally for a season in La Liga is a record Messi set himself, scoring fifty goals during the 2011/12 campaign. For any normal human being, scoring twenty goals in twelve games might seem impossible if he's to match or exceed that feat for a second time. With this wizard of a player though, impossible isn't part of the vocabulary.

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