Lionel Messi has had some fine partners in crime down the years.
From mentor Ronaldinho to the predatory Luis Suarez, several players have been lucky enough to share a special connection with the legendary Argentine No10.
The latest to be welcomed into the inner circle is Jordi Alba.
Barcelona’s tireless left-back has been in supreme form this season and a highlight of his play has been his link-up play with Messi.
Last night, the Catalan giants put Sevilla to the sword at the Nou Camp with Philippe Coutinho watching on, winning their Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg 5-0 against Celta Vigo.
Messi scored twice in the space of two minutes with Alba providing the assist on both occasions.
The second, a devastating yet simple one-two, was typical of the pair’s understanding this campaign.
The roles were reversed for Barca’s third goal when Messi produced one of the best assists of the season to find Alba at the back post, with the Spanish international volleying past Sergio Alvarez in goal.
Incredibly, Alba has now assisted Messi on seven different occasions this season — the most productive combination in Europe’s top five leagues.
Alba’s goal against Celta was his second of the campaign; the other was arguably Barca’s most important so far, a volley in the 82nd minute against Valencia to rescue a point at the Mestalla.
And yep, you guessed, Messi provided the assist then as well.
On the surface, this connection is somewhat curious.
A right-sided forward linking up with a left-back is not common place.
When you watch them in action though, it’s clear why this tactic is working so effectively.
Messi attracts attention and draws markers in with his gravity.
Every time he surges forward or drifts in field, he has a couple of opposition players for company, and this creates space elsewhere on the pitch, most notably on the opposite flank.
Alba’s pace, and the width of the Nou Camp pitch, means one switch ball can open up a defence.
Messi’s passing is almost as good as his dribbling these days and he is more than capable of playing the perfect ball into the path of his marauding team-mate.
And naturally, Alba looks for one of the best goalscorers in history once he’s deep in the final third.
The ex-Valencia full-back recently said that playing with ‘best ever’ Messi was a ‘luxury’ but Alba’s role in the partnership should be underestimated.
His performances this season are reminiscent of prime Dani Alves.
The Brazilian right-back formed a similarly prosperous relationship with Messi during his years in Catalonia.
Alba is level with team-mate Sergi Roberto (who has formed a fine partnership himself with Suarez) as La Liga’s third-best assist provider this season — Messi is second behind Celta’s Pione Sisto.
The Messi/Alba double act is driving Barcelona towards a La Liga crown and for the neutrals, it’s an absolute pleasure to behold.