Ernesto Valverde rounded off his 50th game in charge of Barcelona in emphatic style as his side equalled Real Sociedad’s 38-game and 38-year standing unbeaten league record on Saturday evening with a 3-1 win over Leganes at the Camp Nou.
Once again, Lionel Messi proved the difference between the two sides, as he netted his eighth free kick of 2018 before adding a second following intelligent link-up play with Philippe Coutinho – which was rounded off in typically clinical fashion.
And despite Los Legionarios’ spirited second half showing being rewarded with a goal through a fine Nabil El Zhar finish, Blaugrana were able to claim all three points as the Argentine grabbed his hat-trick in the dying minutes; increasing his side’s advantage at the top of La Liga over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who face Real Madrid on Sunday, to 12 points.
The hosts provided a somewhat reserved opening quarter as they enjoyed the majority of possession yet, like many others this campaign, struggled to break down Asier Garitano’s Leganes.
However, Barcelona’s star-studded attacking lineup finally began to find their range in front of goal as the 20-minute mark approached, with Coutinho and Luis Suarez both coming close in quick succession.
But it was the latter who spurned the Catalonian’s best chance of the early exchanges midway through the first half as goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar somehow managed to deny the Uruguayan with a stunning stop from around six yards out.
Although, the 31-year-old talisman’s lacklustre finishing mattered little shortly afterwards as Messi provided yet another moment of magic from a dead ball situation as he bent his free kick into the far right-hand corner to give Barca the lead their performance deserved.
And a mere five minutes later, the Argentine wizard was at it again, as he tucked home his 28th league goal of the campaign to double the La Liga champions-elect’s advantage.
Coutinho, whose relationship with the 30-year-old is gradually strengthening as every 90 minutes passes by, found the Pichichi leader on the edge of the area, and three touches later the ball was nestling into the back of Cuellar’s net after the majestic finisher held off two Leganes defenders before dispatching his left-footed effort.
After netting their second, the hosts elected to afford Los Legionarios a breather and wound down in the closing minutes of the opening 45 before referee Burgos Bengoetxea called time with Blaugrana taking a two-goal advantage into the break.
After the interval, Barcelona’s measured close to the first half seemed to carry over into the second, with Valverde’s men offering little urgency in possession and remaining content to maintain a controlled tempo.
And Barca’s seemingly complacent outlook on the latter 45 was punished with just over 20 minutes remaining as Leganes forced themselves back into the contest through El Zhar; whose well-struck drive from the edge of the area flew past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to halve the deficit.
Following Los Pepineros demonstrating their capabilities, Blaugrana’s effort levels returned to that of midway through the first half, and similarly to earlier in the evening Suarez again spurned a clear goalscoring opportunity as he blazed over from close-range after latching onto Ousmane Dembele’s pinpoint cross.
But, again, as was the case in the opening 45 minutes, Messi was on hand to rescue his striker’s misfortune in front of goal. As with three minutes remaining, the 30-year-old bagged his hat-trick after eventually receiving possession around six yards from the Leganes goal before lifting his attempt past the encroaching Cuellar to secure a potentially title-defining three points.