Barcelona kept Real Madrid’s La Liga title celebrations on hold for a few days at least with a crushing 7-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid on Sunday after Real had cruised to a 3-0 home win over Sevilla.
Two days after Pep Guardiola announced his decision to step down as Barca coach at the end of the season, World Player of the Year Lionel Messi scored two goals and had a hand in four more, including two for Pedro.
Barca were playing at Rayo’s compact stadium just a short distance away from Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid, where everything was in place for the mass festivities expected when Jose Mourinho’s side win a first league title in four years.
Real maintained their seven-point lead with three games left after Karim Benzema bagged a double and Cristiano Ronaldo racked up his 43rd league goal of the campaign to crush Sevilla.
Mourinho’s side have 91 points and they can secure their 32nd league title with victory at Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao tomorrow, regardless of what Guardiola’s side do at home to Malaga.
Big-spending Malaga strengthened their chances of a first venture into the Champions League next season when a cross looped in off Ignacio Camacho’s shoulder for a 1-0 home win over Valencia.
The visitors, dumped out of the Europa League on Thursday last week, had midfielder Sofiane Feghouli sent off in the 61st minute and Manuel Pellegrini’s side drew level with them on 55 points.
Valencia stay third, ahead of Malaga due to their superior head-to-head record, in the last two qualification slots for Europe’s elite club competition.
Elsewhere, Radamel Falcao grabbed a late equalizer for Europa League finalists Atletico Madrid to draw 2-2 at Real Betis Balompie.
Diego Simeone’s side are sixth with 49 points, one ahead of next month’s final rivals Athletic Bilbao in seventh, who lost 2-0 at struggling Real Zaragoza.
Barca were quickly back into their stride after their shock Champions League defeat by Chelsea, making the most of the spaces left by attack-minded Rayo.
Pedro crossed low for Messi to score and the Argentine won the ball to start the counter for the second.
A cross from Alexis Sanchez was turned into his own net by defender Rober and Messi laid on the third for Seydou Keita after a mazy run before halftime.
Messi’s shot came back off the bar for Pedro to volley the fourth and Thiago Alcantara headed a fifth.
Messi chipped over the top for Pedro’s second and the Argentine fired in the last himself for his 43rd league goal and 65th overall this season.
“After quite a sad week with the elimination from the Champions League and the defeat to Real, we showed at the very least that the team remains full of desire,” Pedro told Spanish television. “We showed that we were 100 percent there for him [Guardiola] tonight. Leo was again decisive in the game, and we just have to try and be there to help him to be the top scorer.”