MADRID (Reuters) - It is easy to forget how talented Lionel Messi is when the Barcelona forward performs at such a consistently high level that you simply expect him to work wonders in every match.
Occasionally, though, Messi has games which even by his own lofty standards are hugely impressive and, unfortunately for Real Betis, they ran into him at his best on Sunday.
Barcelona thrashed the Andalusians 5-0 at the Benito Villamarin, with Messi scoring twice and setting up a goal for Luis Suarez.
“You have to enjoy Messi. We’re living at the same time as him and we just have to enjoy him,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.
“I’ve faced him in the past and I know what he’s capable of. Now I can enjoy him. It’s spectacular to see him every day. He is the best player there is and the best there will ever be.”
After a tight first half the Argentine forward stepped up a gear and single-handedly dismantled the Betis defence.
Messi finished clinically in the 64th minute, firing across Antonio Adan to leave the goalkeeper with no chance after being played through to double Barcelona’s lead following Ivan Rakitic’s opener.
The No. 10’s second goal was a work of individual genius, with Messi teasing two defenders before beating them with ease and casually slipping the ball past Adan.
Arguably the best was yet to come. In the final stages of the game the 30-year-old playmaker rolled back the years and embarked on a number of mazy dribbles, with Betis unable to get near him.
Twisting and turning in his own half to tie three Betis players in knots before escaping at speed on the break, Messi drew a standing ovation from an admiring Benito Villamarin.
These were the kind of moves Messi made a decade ago, which have appeared less in his game during the past few years, but Messi demonstrated he still has them in his locker.
Another wonderful dribble and impudent flick to Suarez led to Barcelona’s fifth goal, the Uruguayan gratefully hammering the ball home after Messi’s run and pass.
“In every game Messi leaves a special touch. This was another game which Leo has been spectacular in,” Suarez said.
“People should feel privileged to be able to watch the best player in the world.”
Messi has scored 19 goals in 20 La Liga matches this season, the division’s top scorer and the main reason Barcelona are 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Under the circumstances, Barcelona’s rivals might be tempted to follow Valverde’s advice and the Betis fans’ lead, sitting back and enjoying watching the world’s best player strut his stuff.
Reporting by Rik Sharma, editing by Ed Osmond