La Liga: Lionel Messi scores twice in Barcelona's 6-0 rout of Rayo Vallecano
Lionel Messi's double gave him 228 goals in league play at the age of 26, giving him one more than Alfredo Di Stefano and tying him with Raul Gonzalez as the competition's third all-time leading scorer. Telmo Zarra holds the record with 251.
Lionel Messi scored two goals and set up another to help Barcelona brush aside Rayo Vallecano 6-0 and keep their share of the Spanish league lead on Saturday, after fellow pace-setter Atletico Madrid beat Valladolid 3-0.
Barcelona's big win, which included the scoring return of Neymar after a monthlong injury absence, came three days before it visits Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Barcelona punished a visiting Rayo side intent on trying to deploy a similar precision passing attack and was unfortunate to head into halftime only up 2-0 from Adriano's second-minute opener and Messi's lob in the 36th.
The Camp Nou hosts found their finishing touch in the second half, as Messi struck again before assisting Alexis Sanchez, with Pedro Rodriguez and Neymar also adding goals.
Messi's double gave him 228 goals in league play at the age of 26, giving him one more than Alfredo Di Stefano and tying him with Raul Gonzalez as the competition's third all-time leading scorer. Telmo Zarra holds the record with 251.
The Argentina forward appears to have regained his full fitness following a two-month injury layoff with four goals in his last two games. And while Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino rested Xavi Hernandez to have him fresh for City, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas picked apart Rayo with their passing.
"We played a complete game, both in attack and in defense," Adriano said. "It was time we had a match at home like this. Now we need to rest up and Tuesday we have to be 100 percent again."
Atletico likewise dominated its home match after Raul Garcia scored three minutes in from a set-piece and seconds later passed for Diego Costa to record his 21st league goal of the season, one less than leader Cristiano Ronaldo. Diego Godin scored in the 74th minute of Atletico's placid victory that saw goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and striker David Villa return from injury absences.
Atletico's win ended a run of three straight losses before visiting AC Milan on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Barcelona and Atletico opened up a provisional three-point advantage over Real Madrid before it plays at Getafe on Sunday.
Rayo and Valladolid, meanwhile, remained in the relegation zone along with Real Betis.
Adriano has scored several long-range goals for Barcelona, and the Brazilian defender struck again from outside the box to get Barcelona going just moments after the whistle.
Rayo's insistence to try and work the ball up the pitch with short passes played into Barcelona's pressure and resulted in a slew of chances for the defending champions.
Messi hit the right post after Sergio Busquets recovered the ball in the 14th, and four minutes later Pedro rattled the left upright.
Messi forced goalkeeper Ruben Martinez to make a pair of saves before Fabregas intercepted another errant pass and spotted Messi completely unmarked near Rayo's box. Messi dribbled forward and easily chipped the ball over Martinez to double the lead.
Messi found Alexis all alone to beat Martinez in the 53rd and tally his team-leading 15th league goal of the season, and three minutes later Pedro tapped in a short pass from Fabregas, who was played clear by Iniesta's deft back-heeled flick.
Messi took his second goal in the 68th with a left-footed shot just inside the upright, and Neymar capped the rout in the 89th after he came on as a substitute.
The Brazil striker, who had been out since hurting his right ankle on Jan. 16, dribbled past various defenders before unleashing a long-range strike that sailed in over Martinez.
In Valencia, Levante extended its undefeated streak to six rounds thanks to its stout defense and David Barral's solo effort to beat visiting Almeria 1-0.
Barral used an acrobatic kick to loop Nabil El Zhar's cross inside the post in the 62nd. However, Levante needed another superb save from goalkeeper Keylor Navas to swat Oscar Diaz's shot onto the goalframe in the 89th to ensure it provisionally rose to seventh.