Lionel Messi has scored more direct free-kicks than Real Madrid since start of 2011-12 season

Real Betis Balompie v FC Barcelona - La Liga

Lionel Messi was at his imperious best as Barcelona cruised to a 4-1 win against Betis on Sunday.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner scored a hat-trick - the 51st of his career - as Barcelona extended their lead at the top of La Liga to 10 points.

So brilliant was Messi that even Betis supporters applauded him following his 10 out of 10 performance at the Benito Villamarin.

He kicked things off with a fantastic free-kick in the 18th minute, aiming for the corner that Betis goalkeeper Pau Lopez was closest to and yet still managing to beat him.

The 31-year-old then finished off Luis Suarez’s exquisite pass to double his tally on the night.

And Messi may have saved his best till last, perfectly chipping the ball over Lopez.

Anyone fortunate enough to have watched Messi’s performance live will speak about it for a very, very long time.

Real Betis Balompie v FC Barcelona - La Liga

Messi: More free-kick goals than Real Madrid

He became the first player to score five goals from direct free-kicks in Europe’s top five leagues and the Champions League this season.

And he’s now scored more free-kicks than Real Madrid have since the start of the 2011-12 season.

Messi has netted 25 direct set-pieces since then; Los Blancos collectively have scored 24.

It’s not just Real Madrid who have fewer free-kicks goals since the beginning of the 2011-12 campaign - Lyon, Roma, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool have, too.

Messi’s ability from set-pieces is often overlooked but there’s a case to be made that nobody is better than him in that department right now.

Last year, he admitted that taking free-kicks was one aspect of his game that he sought to improve.

“I've also improved at taking free kicks a lot, even with my right foot. I am always trying to learn and improve every day,” he told Catalunya Radio, per ESPN.

Not satisfied with simply being a fantastic goalscorer, he set out to become the world’s best free-kick taker, too.

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