The El Clásico, one of world soccer's most prestigious and anticipated encounters, didn't disappoint on Sunday as Barcelona edged out their bitter rivals, Real Madrid, by four goals to three in a pulsating contest.
The match was filled to the brim with action and incident, and turned on a red-card for Madrid defender, Sergio Ramos, which swung the game back into Barcelona's favour when they had previously been a goal behind.
Ramos was adjudged to have pulled down Brazilian striker Neymar, who was on the precipice of being substituted just before the collision, inside the box, and as well as being sent off the Spanish defender had also given away a penalty.
Messi duly dispatched the spot-kick to make the score 3-3, and with only seven minutes left Xabi Alonso brought down Andres Iniesta to give the diminutive Argentinian the perfect chance for Barcelona to collect all three points. Messi, once again, scored to complete his hat-trick, having earlier struck to draw Barcelona level at 2-2.
The match had started off at a pulsating speed, and Barcelona looked to have the La Liga leaders on the ropes when Iniesta put them in front after just seven minutes with a delightful, yet precise, powerful drive into the top corner.
However, Madrid soon fought back. Angel di Maria was causing Dani Alves all kinds of problems down the left hand flank, and he set up Karim Benzema for two goals in just four minutes, which put Madrid in the ascendancy.
Benzema should have in fact scored maybe half a dozen times in the encounter but he was thwarted on numerous occasions by Victor Valdes, who was appearing in his last ever El Clasico before he departs Barcelona in the summer.
Messi then restored parity just before half-time, before his counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo, was brought down and scored a penalty that looked destined to give Madrid the victory. That was until Ramos' red-cards and Messi's penalties altered the outcome.
Madrid will feel hard done by. They restricted Barcelona's efforts on goal, and looked the more dangerous team when they both had the same amount of players. But like a hungry lion stalking an injured prey, Barcelona took advantage of their superiority once it came and they are now right back in the title hunt.
This defeat allowed Atletico Madrid to overtake their cross-city rivals, as they have a better head-to-head record against Real, while Barca now sit just a further point back.
[Image via Natursports/Shutterstock]