Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was delighted to mark his 58th birthday with an "incredible" 6-1 LaLiga thrashing of Real Sociedad. (More Football News)
The Catalans closed back to within four points of league leaders Atletico Madrid on Sunday with arguably their finest performance under Koeman.
Two goals each from Sergino Dest and Lionel Messi âÂ who made a record 768th appearance for the club âÂ and further strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele secured an emphatic victory, Barca's ninth in a row in the top flight.
Koeman, who was thrilled to see the goals spread out among four players and not only come from his captain, was proud at the way Barca made life so uncomfortable for their hosts.
"Without a doubt, it's the best present they could have given me," said Koeman. "I'm also happy for Griezmann and [Jordi] Alba, who've had their birthdays, and who played a great game.
"Scoring six goals at Real Sociedad is incredible. They tried to press us but, when they saw they couldn't, they took a step back.
23 -Â @FCBarcelona's Lionel Messi Â has been involved in more goals than any other player in the top five European leagues in 2021 (23 - 16 goals and 7 assists). Gold.Â pic.twitter.com/QkDPkDZjooâ OptaJose (@OptaJose)Â March 21, 2021
"The first goal made us very calm and the second was almost decisive. We gave a really good impression of ourselves. We pressed really well without the ball and we were very effective.
"There's a long way to go. It won't be decided yet. Atletico are strong, but you saw against Alaves that it's not easy to win a game. Real Madrid are also in the fight; we can't forget them.
"We leave with a great result and a demonstration that we're going to go for everything. It's important that it's not just Messi scoring the goals because that makes it more difficult to defend against us."
Barca head into the international break trailing Atletico by 10 points after Diego Simeone's side claimed a hard-fought 1-0 win over Deportivo Alaves.
The Blaugrana look the sharpest of the big three in Spain at present and Koeman thinks they have improved significantly in recent weeks.
"I can't say we're not going to lose any game from here until the rest of the season, but it's clear that we're on a good path. We're very strong mentally and physically," he said.
"We've had many difficulties since the start of the season. We've changed things; any team needs time to learn. We've had some ups and downs in LaLiga, with defensive mistakes and a lack of effectiveness. But it's obvious the team has moved on."