Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as La Liga leaders Barcelona broke Real Madrid’s Spanish record of 34 games unbeaten in all competitions with a 5-1 win at nine-man Rayo Vallecano to go eight points clear at the top.
Luis Enrique’s men were already five points ahead of Atletico Madrid going into Thursday’s clash in Vallecas and took full advantage of their game in hand to stretch their lead.
Having come under some early pressure from Rayo, Barca were the beneficiaries of a large stroke of fortune as a blunder from goalkeeper Juan Carlos allowed Ivan Rakitic to open the scoring in the 22nd minute.
Messi made it 2-0 after combining brilliantly with Neymar – the goal allowed to stand despite a suspicion of offside – before Rayo were reduced to 10 following Diego Llorente’s foul on Rakitic.
A simple 53rd-minute finish saw Messi double his tally and make it 3-0, although Manucho did restore some pride for Rayo four minutes later.
The relegation-threatened hosts went down to nine men after Manuel Iturra conceded a penalty, which Suarez missed to mark Barca’s seventh failure from the spot in 13 attempts, but Messi and Arda Turan completed the rout.
Barca’s Claudio Bravo was the first goalkeeper to be tested when he was forced into a diving save to keep out Adrian Embarba’s effort from distance in the fourth minute.
However, Rayo’s good work in the opening 20 minutes was undone as – after denying Messi with near-post save – Juan Carlos gifted Barca the opener by fumbling the subsequent corner into the path of Rakitic to turn into an empty net.
And the hosts were given a mountain to climb just a minute later, Messi slotting into the bottom-left corner from Neymar’s return pass, although replays suggested the Brazil captain may have been marginally offside when he received the initial ball down the left from the Argentina forward.
Rayo refused to lie down, though, and spurned a glorious chance to pull a goal back when Quini headed Embarba’s left-wing cross wide from close range.
However, any hope of a comeback was all but extinguished three minutes before half-time, Llorente seeing red for a high and rash challenge on Rakitic.
An angry Paco Jemez came out to confront referee Inaki Vicandi Garrido following the half-time whistle and his mood will only have worsened when Messi put Barca three to the good eight minutes after the restart.
Neymar – suspended for Barca’s next match against Eibar after picking up a late booking – and Suarez both spurned decent chances early in the second half, with the latter then seeing his volley strike the right-hand post, only for Messi convert on the rebound despite Juan Carlos getting a hand to his shot.
Embarba was involved as Rayo quickly responded, his inswinging cross headed back across goal by Bebe for Manucho to convert.
Neymar struck the crossbar from a free-kick after Rakitic had been fouled on the edge of the area.
Iturra then hacked down Sergio Busquets from the rebound but Suarez was denied by Juan Carlos from 12 yards, although the shot-stopper was soon picking the ball out of his net twice more.
Messi latched onto a Busquets pass to roll home his third and Arda added yet more gloss to the scoreline by turning in Jeremy Mathieu’s cross at the far post.
Key Opta stats:
– Neymar is the first Brazilian player to reach double figures for both goals (18) and assists (10) in La Liga since Ronaldinho (2005-06).
– With their second goal at Vallecas, Barcelona scored their 300th goal with Luis Enrique as head coach (303 in total in all competitions).
– Arda Turan has scored five goals against Rayo Vallecano in La Liga, more than against any other club.
– The Turkish player scored his first goal for Barcelona and his first header in La Liga.