Lionel Messi took his senior career goals tally to 301 as he scored twice in Barcelona’s 5-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid, which put them three points clear at the top of La Liga on Saturday.
The World Player of the Year got Barca’s second just after halftime and he finished off the rout with another at the end. The 25-year-old has now scored 270 goals for his club and 31 for Argentina.
Spain internationals David Villa, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas scored the other goals as Barcelona continued their unbeaten start under new coach Tito Vilanova and moved on to 25 points from nine games.
“We are delighted for Lionel,” Vilanova told a press conference. “He has scored a couple of goals, but I prefer to remember the moment when he ran 30m to help out in defense in the 89th minute. I love the goals, but I like this more.”
Malaga are third with 18 points after a disappointing 0-0 draw at struggling RCD Espanyol, while Real Betis Balompie beat Valencia 1-0 to move up to fourth on 16 points thanks to Salva Sevilla’s early goal.
Second-placed Atletico Madrid, with 22 points, were due to host bottom club CA Osasuna yesterday, when champions Real Madrid, in fifth with 14 points, were set to travel to RCD Mallorca.
Barca, with midfielder Sergio Busquets and fullback Adriano Correia deputizing in central defense, were under a lot of pressure from hard-running Rayo before taking control at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas.
Former Arsenal captain Fabregas laid on the opener for Villa after 20 minutes, while Martin Montoya pulled the ball back for Messi to strike the second in the 47th.
Rayo continued to hound Barca, but the visitors wrestled the game away from the hosts and Jordi Alba pulled another ball back for Xavi to finish the game as a contest in the 78th minute.
Fabregas volleyed in from Pedro’s cross soon afterwards and Messi scampered away to round the goalkeeper in the last minute to pull away at the top of the La Liga scoring charts with 13 goals.
“It’s a difficult ground, with spectacular fans,” Fabregas told Spanish television. “They pressure you and don’t let you breathe, but we played a serious game, perhaps the best of the season so far.”
Betis took the lead against inconsistent Valencia when a half-cleared cross fell to midfielder Sevilla after nine minutes at the Estadio Benito Villamarin and his first-time shot was too powerful for visiting goalkeeper Diego Alves.
Valencia, still seeking their first away win this season, improved in the second half when striker Roberto Soldado, who scored a hat-trick against BATE Borisov in the UEFA Champions League last week, twice went close.
Betis goalkeeper Adrian blocked another Soldado effort with his legs in the closing minutes to leave Valencia ninth in the table with 11 points.
Malaga’s 1-0 home win over AC Milan in midweek looked to have taken its toll as the UEFA Champions League debutants struggled to create openings against resolute hosts Espanyol.
“A point doesn’t seem like much, but it shows we have recovered our confidence, playing like we did against a Champions League team,” Espanyol’s under-pressure coach Mauricio Pochettino told a press conference.
RC Celta de Vigo are 11th with 10 points after surviving a 51st-minute red card for defender Gustavo Cabral to draw 1-1 at home to regional rivals RC Deportivo de La Coruna in a pulsating Galician derby.
Mario Bermejo bundled in the opener for the hosts after only eight minutes, but former Spain international Juan Carlos Valeron, 37, rolled back the years to dance between two defenders and set up Juan Dominguez for the equalizer in the 29th minute.
Cabral was dismissed after picking up two yellow cards in as many minutes early in the second half and either side could have bagged a winner in a high-octane encounter.