Christmas literally came early for Lionel Messi and Barcelona during El Clasico on Saturday.
Blaugrana have started the new season in scintillating fashion and extended their La Liga advantage over Real Madrid to a gargantuan 14 points with a 3-0 win at the Bernabeu.
After a tense first-half ended goalless, Luis Suarez elongated his recent return to form to open the deadlock before Los Blancos were reduced to ten men thanks to Dani Carvajal's illegal goal line clearance.
Messi stepped up and scored from the penalty spot, enhancing his record of El Clasico goals to a dizzying tally of 25.
The Argentine then played a crucial role, wearing just a single boot, in the killer blow as Aleix Vidal made it 3-0 after Keylor Navas' uncharacteristic error.
It really was a convincing victory for Barcelona and one of Messi's finest individual performances in recent seasons. In spite of Cristiano Ronaldo collecting this year's Ballon d'Or, it seems the man to beat now takes residence in Catalunya.
What makes the showing all the more spectacular, though, is the fact Zinedine Zidane set up to man mark the 30-year-old using steady midfielder Mateo Kovačić.
He's no Claude Makelele or Roy Keane but the Croatian remains one of the best in the world for his position, so how did Messi run riot?
Well, tactical analysis since the fateful game has shown exactly how Messi managed to undermine Zidane's tactics from the very first minute.
The plan all revolved around Barcelona's star man dropping deeper than usual with the biggest threat to Real Madrid's goal, causing even more damage when further from it.
Take a look at the video below:
So, what's the gist?
Messi dropping deeper would always allow another member of the Barcelona midfield greater space in forcing Kovacic, who stuck closely to his orders, to deviate from his position.
This proved a particular problem in the first-half with Sergio Busquets gaining acres of space. Had Kovacic moved up to mark the Spaniard, then Messi would have been free and a defender would be forced to break the backline to compensate.
In other words, whenever Messi dropped, Barcelona effectively had an extra man in the midfield.
Messi took this to the extreme in some cases with Karim Benzema being forced to mark Busquets, as the five-time Ballon d'Or would sometimes drop back to within five yards of his own defence.
Yet Messi could still be so involved in attacks? Well, Busquets would occasionally 'mark' Kovacic when Barcelona were in possession to unleash the main man.
Do you think Lionel Messi is on course for the 2018 Ballon d'Or? Have your say in the comments section below.
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