Barcelona were below their best but still won 5-0 at Rayo Vallecano and will stay top of La Liga until Sunday at least, as Lionel Messi surpassed 300 career goals.
Tito Vilanova’s pace-setters took a 20th-minute lead through David Villa, who finished Cesc Fabregas’s fine pass with aplomb, while Messi added a superb second early in the second half to hit 300 in 422 matches for his club and country.
But Barca did not have it all their way as Rayo fought hard and missed some big chances, with Victor Valdes the busier of the two keepers in the suburbs of Madrid.
Late goals from Xavi, Fabregas and another from Messi added a flattering sheen to the scoreline, and crucially extended their goal difference over Atletico Madrid, who will need a seven-goal swing against Osasuna on Sunday to take top spot.
The first half was a dour affair by Barca’s standards as they struggled to exercise their usual passing dominance, thanks to a determined Rayo side pressing from the front as they bid to avoid the 7-0 thrashing they were handed in this fixture last year.
Both had penalty appeals rejected, first the hosts as Fabregas tripped Leo Baptistao on the edge of the box, then the Catalans as the previously guilty party was shoved by Jose Manuel Casado.
Rayo were having the better of the early exchanges, but they could only manage half-chances as Barca took the lead in a moment of magic.
Fabregas’s 20th-minute slide-rule pass was a delight, as was Villa’s diagonal run to smash the offside trap and ram a bullet finish past Ruben.
It was Villa’s fourth Liga goal of the campaign and first as a starter, while Fabregas took his assist tally to nine this season and 74 since 2006-07 – the highest in any of the top European leagues.
Along with a Messi free-kick that whistled just wide, that was the only really genuine threat the visitors had all half.
The hosts had some great opportunities though. Piti volleyed over when found unmarked at the far post following an uneasy header by Adriano, asked to play centre-half in the absence of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique. Then Andrija Delibasic fired straight at Valdes after he got the better of the Brazilian full-back.
So Rayo would have gone into half-time believing they could still give Barca a run for their money.
That belief took a hammer blow thanks to the skill of Messi as, a minute after the restart, the Argentine wizard drilled a magnificent finish past Ruben after excellent work from Marc Montoya on the right.
The hosts responded well to going two down, as Javi Fuego tested Valdes from the edge of the box, while Delibasic flicked an angled header inches over from the resultant corner.
Valdes was again called into action by a low Fuego drive as Barca – who normally hit the three-quarters mark on possession – continued to share the ball with the hosts.
The latter stages predictably saw Barca ratchet up the possession stats, while Rayo grew frustrated – typified when on-loan Espanyol defender Jordi Amat was lucky not to see a card of a different colour when he was booked for a wild hack at Messi.
The hosts had not given up though, pushing men forward and almost pulling one back when Rodri put wide from close range.
Seconds later Barca had a third as Alba got around Tito to pick out Xavi, in acres of space to slide home the finish.
And almost immediately from the restart it was 4-0, Fabregas getting in on the act to claim his fourth Liga goal of the season with a flying side-foot finish from Pedro’s cross.
Messi added a fifth in the 88th minute, rounding Ruben to finish from a tight angle as the hosts committed bodies forward, his 301st goal for club and country at the age of just 25.
It was harsh on poor Rayo, who sit 13th but could slide towards the drop zone by the end of the weekend, while Barca will take comfort in the knowledge that they can win and win well even when below par.
- Sports & Recreation
- Lionel Messi
- Cesc Fabregas
- Rayo Vallecano
- Victor Valdes