MADRID - Barcelona set a new record for the best start to a Spanish soccer league season on Sunday when a 3-1 win at Malaga kept them 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid and 18 in front of Real Madrid.
Ballon d'Or winner Messi scored for a ninth successive league game and then supplied Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara for the second and third goals. He has 28 for the La Liga season.
Barcelona have 55 points from 19 games with 18 wins and a draw, breaking the previous mark for the halfway stage of the campaign which they set at 52 points in 2010-'11.
"We're very happy to get 55 out of 57 points but, logically, it will be difficult to repeat that with the Champions League and the Spanish Cup to think about as well," said Barca coach Tito Vilanova.
"We have Atletico 11 points behind us and we have to go there and to Real Madrid so we can't just stop now - we have to keep going."
Malaga have the best defensive record in La Liga but goalkeeper Willy Caballero, after several impressive saves, could do nothing when Messi intercepted a poor back pass from Ignacio Camacho on 27 minutes and cut back to slide the ball home for the opener.
Fabregas doubled the lead five minutes into the second period when Messi found the former Arsenal captain with a perfectly weighted chip on the left hand side of the area. He still had a lot to do but, with a simple left foot control and right-footed shot, he slid the ball past Caballero.
Substitute Thiago wrapped it up with a left-footed drive after exchanging passes with the Argentine with eight minutes to play before Buonanotte's consolation.
Atletico Madrid made it 10 wins out of 10 at home this season with a 2-0 victory over Zaragoza.
Portuguese midfielder Tiago Cardoso scored from a header and Radamel Falcao hit a penalty for the win that means Atletico stretch their lead over city rivals Real Madrid in third place to seven points.
Real could only draw 0-0 at Osasuna on Saturday.
Betis moved above Malaga into fourth position and a Champions League berth with a 2-0 win at home to Levante.
Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell, on-loan from Arsenal, hit the first on seven minutes before Ruben Castro wrapped up the win on 63 minutes with a clever turn and drive for his 11th league goal of the season.
Ten-man Deportivo La Coruna, who had Evaldo dismissed with almost 30 minutes remaining, held on for an important 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad that keeps the Galician side a point ahead of Osasuna at the bottom of the table.
They went ahead with a Pizzi goal midway through the first period but Carlos Vela equalised for Sociedad with a well-hit, curled shot just before the break.