Lionel Messi scored four as Barcelona came from behind to thrash Valencia 5-1 at home, closing the gap on La Liga leaders Real Madrid back to 10 points on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho’s side thumped Real Racing Club de Santander 4-0 on Saturday to put pressure on the champions, who conceded to Pablo Piatti after only nine minutes at the Camp Nou.
World Player of the Year Messi led the fightback with two goals in five minutes to put them ahead by the 27th minute as Pep Guardiola’s side responded with some irresistible soccer.
Messi bagged two more in the second half, taking his league tally to 27, and substitute Xavi lobbed the fifth at the end to move his side on to 51 points from 23 games. Valencia are third with 40.
“The team played a great game,” Messi told Spanish television. “It was important the team played well again, like they did in Germany during the week, because the important part of the season is coming and we have to continue in this way.”
RCD Espanyol moved into fourth with 33 points, ahead of Athletic Bilbao because of their superior head-to-head record, after the Basques scored three times in three second-half minutes in a 3-0 home win over Malaga.
The Copa del Rey finalists scored with their first clear sight of goal in the 58th minute when Fernando Amorebieta pounced on a loose ball after a corner and Mikel San Jose headed the second from another corner. Gaizka Toquero volleyed in the third at the back post in the 61st minute.
Atletico Madrid were a point behind them in sixth after being held to a 1-1 draw at Sporting de Gijon, who had former Spain boss Javier Clemente in the dugout for his debut at the helm.
Adrian Lopez’s cross-cum-shot was turned into his own net by Sporting’s Roberto Canella in the 20th minute, but the hosts leveled when Sebastian Eguren poked a loose ball past Thibaut Courtois just before halftime.
Levante UD slipped down to seventh after losing an eight-goal thriller at home to Rayo Vallecano de Madrid, who ran out 5-3 winners.
Earlier, Granada’s new coach Abel Resino made it three wins in four since he took the helm when his side came back to beat 10-man Real Sociedad 4-1 at home with a double from Ike Uche.
However, Villarreal’s revival under their new coach Jose Molina shuddered to a halt when they were thrashed 4-0 at RCD Mallorca.
At the Camp Nou, Barca were caught napping when Sofiane Feghouli’s looping cross was steered in by an unmarked Piatti, but they quickly found their rhythm.
Messi showed great composure waiting for visiting goalkeeper Diego Alves to commit himself before slipping the ball beneath him to level in the 22nd minute.
The outstanding Andres Iniesta started the move that led to Alves failing to hold Messi’s shot in the 27th minute and the Argentine pounced to score again, before Cesc Fabregas acrobatically volleyed against the crossbar.
Alves tipped a Messi header on to the crossbar after the break, but the goalkeeper was stranded when he parried a shot from substitute Tello and Messi slotted away the rebound in the 76th minute.
Messi sprinted clear to lob his fourth in the 85th minute and Xavi used the same weapon to beat Alves again at the death.