Suarez is La Liga’s top scorer with 23 goals in 22 matches this season

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Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez combined to score an audacious penalty as La Liga leaders Barcelona thrashed Celta Vigo to move three points clear.

With Barca leading 3-1, Messi nudged the spot-kick forward and to his right for Suarez to run into the area and side-foot in to complete his hat-trick.

Messi opened the scoring with a sublime free-kick before Celta striker John Guidetti drilled in a penalty to level.

After Suarez’s second-half treble, Ivan Rakitic and Neymar sealed the rout.

The defending champions still have a game in hand on nearest rivals Atletico Madrid, with Real Madrid four points adrift of Barca in third.

Relive Barca’s entertaining win against Celta

How the penalty unfolded

Barcelona beat Celta Vigo
Penalty-taker Lionel Messi gives Celta keeper Sergio Alvarez ‘the eyes’, looking goalwards but passing the ball to the right…
Barcelona beat Celta Vigo
…but Luis Suarez knows what Messi is up to, beginning his run behind his team-mate…
Sure enough, Suarez arrives quickly on the scene to calmly side-foot into the Celta net….
And, to the shock of almost everybody in the Nou Camp (including team-mate Ivan Rakitic), Suarez completes his hat-trick in the most unusual of styles

Stylish Barca extend unbeaten run

Barcelona had not been beaten in 29 previous matches in all competitions before the visit of a Celta team which had won two of the past three meetings between the sides.

Celta, who Luis Enrique left to manage Barca in May 2014, earned a surprise 1-0 win at the Nou Camp last season and thrashed their former boss’s side in a 4-1 home success in September.

And they will have been quietly confident of causing another upset as they held their hosts 1-1 at the break.

Barca failed to find their rhythm in the first half, giving no indication to the virtually silent home supporters of what excitement would unfold in the second half.

Suarez clipped in Messi’s pass to put Barca back in front just before the hour and bundled in Neymar’s cross on the goal-line for his second.

The Uruguay striker completed a 22-minute hat-trick by converting Messi’s audacious penalty, before substitute Rakitic’s lob and Neymar’s cool finish extended their unbeaten run to 30 matches.

Selfless Messi delays landmark goal

If Messi had converted the penalty, it would have been his 300th La Liga goal for Barcelona.

But did his selfless act in teeing up Suarez mean that he would gain an unwanted statistic – another ‘missed’ penalty?

It was a tongue-in-cheek question posed by former Spanish referee Eduardo Iturralde on Twitter, where it was spread to a wider audience by Guardian football writer Sid Lowe.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez's penalty helped Barcelona beat Celta Vigo

“Messi goes down as having a penalty not scored and an assist,” confirmed football statisticians Opta.

Was it meant for Neymar and not Suarez?

That’s what Brazil forward Neymar claimed afterwards.

“We practised the penalty – it was for me, but Luis was closer and scored,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, he scored so it worked well.

“We love each other a lot and that friendship is the most important thing, no matter who scores the goals.”

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez's penalty helped Barcelona beat Celta Vigo
Neymar (right) appeared to chase after Messi’s pass – but Suarez reached it first

I would have trodden on the ball – Luis Enrique

The penalty evoked memories of when Barca legend Johan Cruyff played a one-two with Ajax team-mate Jesper Olsen to score from the spot in 1982, plusa less successful attempt by Arsenal pair Robert Pires and Thierry Henry in 2005.

“We all remember Cruyff’s goal,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique. “I wouldn’t dare to do it because I would tread on the ball.

“Some will like it, some won’t, but as Barca players and members of the club, on top of winning titles we try to enjoy our football in a spectacular way.”

Atletico stay in touch

Second-placed Atletico Madrid briefly moved level with Barcelona following a 1-0 win at Getafe earlier on Sunday.

Spain striker Fernando Torres tapped in Yannick Carrasco’s low cross from the left after 61 seconds – and that proved enough for the visitors.

Diego Simeone’s team moved back into second at the expense of Real, who host their neighbours at the Bernabeu on 27 February.

Atletico striker Fernando Torres
Torres has scored two goals in his past two matches, taking his tally to four in 18 Liga matches this season
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