Lionel Messi has been hailed as the greatest player ever by his Barcelona colleagues after breaking the all-time La Liga scoring record.
The Argentine star ended a three-game barren sequence in the league by firing a brilliant hat-trick in his team’s demolition of Sevilla on Saturday night, taking his career tally to 253 and overtaking the previous record of 251 held by Telmo Zarra.
Messi’s popularity within the dressing room was evident from the warmth of the congratulations he received from his team-mates when he broke the record, and after the game Barca’s stars lined up to pay their tributes to the 27-year-old.
Manager Luis Enrique was first in line, saying Messi’s brilliance eclipses the talents of even his greatest former Barca team-mates such as Brazilian stars Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo.
“I’ve been saying for years now there is no other player like him,” said Enrique. “There is no-one who can touch him.
“I’m lucky to be able to train him every day. You can’t compare him to any other player. He is one of a kind and there will never be another like him.
“We are fortunate to be able to enjoy watching him and I think he will leave the record unreachable for anyone else.”
Enrique also believes that Messi’s record is even more remarkable for the fact that he achieved it in a completely different era from previous holder Zarra, who played for Athletic Bilbao in the 1940s and 50s, a period when high scorelines were commonplace.
“I never imagined that anyone would beat the Zarra record, which was set in an age when there were more forwards than defenders,” Enrique pointed out.
“At the level the game is played now, not just physically but also considering how well-prepared opposition defences are, a record like this is tremendous.”
Stars such as Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and Neymar – who provided the assist for the record-breaking goal – were also quick to send messages of congratulations through their personal social media channels, with Iniesta summing up the awestruck response of his team-mates as he enthused: “You’re unique, there are no adjectives!”
The only negative note of the evening came when Barca unwisely decided to include unpopular club president Josep Maria Bartomeu in a video tribute to Messi which was played on Nou Camp’s big screens after the game.
A chorus of jeers and whistles rang around the stadium as soon as Bartomeu’s face appeared on the screens, but the undeterred president took the opportunity to insist speculation that Messi is considering leaving the Nou Camp is well wide of the mark.
“Leo wants to stay,” said Bartomeu, who also suggested he believes a conspiracy theory lies behind the rumours of Messi leaving. “Barcelona and Catalonia sees him as the best player in history and it is elsewhere where people talk about things I personally don’t like.
Liverpool suffered more Selhurst Park misery as struggling Crystal Palace came from behind to clinch a shock 3-1 win over the lacklustre Reds on Sunday.
Brendan Rodgers' side saw their hopes of winning the Premier League title effectively ended when they conceded three late goals in a 3-3 draw at Palace last season and they fared even worse on their first return to south London since that painful experience.
Rickie Lambert had given Liverpool an early lead with his first goal since his pre-season move from Southampton.
But Neil Warnock's team hit back through Dwight Gayle's first half equaliser and Joe Ledley put Palace in front with 12 minutes remaining before Australia midfielder Mile Jedinak's brilliant free-kick sealed the points moments later.
Liverpool, disjointed going forward and careless in defence, could have few complaints about a dismal result that left them without a win in four league matches and with only one victory in their last seven games in all competitions.
The Reds are languishing in 12th place, only four points above the relegation zone and two points ahead of Palace, who climbed out of the bottom three with their first win since late September.
In the day's other game, Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen scored a fine 90th-minute winner to earn Tottenham Hotspur a morale-boosting 2-1 win away to 10-man Hull City.
Former Spurs midfielder Jake Livermore fired Hull ahead in the eighth minute, but the hosts lost Gaston Ramirez early in the second period after he was sent off for kicking out at Jan Vertonghen.
Harry Kane equalised in the 61st minute, sweeping home after Eriksen's free-kick hit the post, before the Dane drove in a late winner that left Mauricio Pochettino's side in 10th place.
Lionel Messi scored his first hat trick of the season and made history as he fired Barcelona to a resounding 5-1 win at home to Sevilla.
The Argentine’s treble took him past former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra’s mark of 251 goals and on to 253. They have come in just 289 games.
The 27-year-old opened the scoring with a sensational free-kick to draw level with Zarra, but his strike was cancelled out by Jordi Alba’s own goal at the start of the second half.
Neymar headed Barca back in front moments later and Ivan Rakitic extended Barca’s lead before Messi broke the scoring record after an awesome combination with Neymar and then struck again to complete his treble.
Messi had been the subject of a litany of press reports linking him to a move away from Barcelona last week following comments the striker had made to Argentine newspaper Ole, saying he did not know if he would stay at the Catalan club for the rest of his career.
But he produced the perfect response on the pitch. His brilliant, curled free-kick put Barca in command after 21 minutes, but Sevilla refused to wilt after going behind and kept the hosts at bay for the rest of the first half.
Unai Emery’s side made a bold start to the second half and drew level three minutes after the break. Vitolo took on Dani Alves and Gerard Pique by the line and pulled the ball back across goal towards Denis Suarez, but Alba got there first and could not avoid tumbling the ball into the bottom corner.
However, just a minute later Barca were back in front, Neymar rising above the Sevilla defenders to head Xavi’s curled free-kick in at the near post. A quarter of an hour later Rakitic scored against his former club to kill off the third goal to end all hope of a Sevilla comeback.
Pique carried the ball from defence towards the halfway line and played in Luis Suarez on the right with a sweeping ball. The Uruguayan cut inside and picked out Rakitic on the opposite side of the box and the Croatian’s header was too powerful for Beto, who prevented the ball from hitting the net but not from crossing the line.
— theScore (@theScore) November 22, 2014
But the best goal of the game was still to come – an irresistible combination between Neymar and Messi. The Argentine played in his strike partner down the left hand side, the Brazil international scuttled towards goal but – rather than shooting – sent the ball across the far post and Messi slid to the floor to nudge the ball home with his right foot.
Barcelona’s all-time top scorer was greeted with rapturous applause by the Camp Nou and his teammates combined to carry the history maker on their shoulders.
But Messi was not just content to have made history, and moments later scored his hat trick, playing a one-two with Neymar on the edge of the area and then placed the ball low beyond Beto and into the net.
The player was then given a guard of honour by his team-mates at the end and a celebratory video was shown on the Camp Nou’s big screens.