Lionel Messi closed in on Gerd Mueller’s scoring mark as Barcelona crushed Athletic Bilbao 5-1 to set a new record for the best ever start to a La Liga season and stay 11 points clear of Real Madrid.
Defending champions Real edged city rivals Atletico Madrid 2-0 with Cristiano Ronaldo on target to keep their slender hopes of a title repeat alive.
Barca have now put together 13 wins and a draw from their first 14 matches to beat the previous best start set by Real in the 1991 to 1992 season.
“It is great to have achieved this, but I am happier still with the performance of my players and that even at 5-1 we continued to keep pressing and trying to score,” Barca coach Tito Vilanova said. “There are still things we can improve on and we can still work harder.”
Gerard Pique put the Catalan side ahead after 22 minutes followed quickly by Messi’s first, which came off defender Fernando Amorebieta on the line, before Adriano Correia hit the third on the point of half-time.
Cesc Fabregas then added to the deluge of goals and Ibai Gomez got a consolation before Messi struck again.
Messi is now just one goal off Mueller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year set for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.
Barca had their first sight of goal with a low drive from Andres Iniesta after 12 minutes which keeper Gorka Iraizoz saved comfortably.
They got their breakthrough after a spell of pressure.
Bilbao failed to clear their lines from a corner and although Iraizoz repelled Fabregas’ shot, Pique pounced on the rebound to knock it home.
Minutes later, Barca doubled their lead due in part to slack defending Fernando Amorebieta failed to keep tight to Messi who slipped the ball past the keeper and a despairing dive from the defender only served to help the ball Messi hit the post before Adriano burst in from the right and fired a Fabregas pass into the roof of the net.
There was no let up after the restart and Iraizoz did well to block Messi, but could do nothing to stop Fabregas who fired home an Iniesta pass.
Barca were guilty of easing off as Gomez pulled a goal back, but Messi had the final say with his second.