Barcelona stormed back to the top of La Liga at the weekend for the first time since November, demoting the once all-conquering Real Madrid to second in the table, after demolishing Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou. After Ronaldo and his side had lost away at Athletic Bilbao, the Catalans knew that a victory would see them replace their great rivals at the summit. Lionel Messi for one was not about to let the opportunity be wasted, as he scored yet another hat-trick in a commanding 6-1 victory for his side.
The hat-trick was an amazing 24th in his glittering career in the top Spanish league, as Barcelona ran riot against their struggling opponents. Their form of late seems to have been on the rise, with Luis Suarez also beginning to fully integrate himself into the line-up, as he added a brace himself at the weekend..
It was the Uruguayan who fired his team ahead on five minutes, but as half-time was reached there may have been some concerns among the home faithful, that their players had not been able to add to that early score. Those nerves would have been allayed somewhat 4 minutes after the interval, when Gerard Pique scrambled in the second.
Cue Messi to become the centre of attention once again for Barcelona, as he produced a quickfire hat-trick in just twelve minutes. He was 'entrusted' with the taking of a 56th minute penalty that his team were awarded, fresh from his recent tribulations on that front, including missing so spectacularly away at Manchester City in the Champions League. This time he was successful from the spot, but had to re-take the kick before claiming his first success of the match. His second and Barca's fourth was a simple tap in, but his hat-trick goal was far more in keeping with the class of the man.
Suarez wrapped up the scoring for the home side with their sixth goal in the final minute, after Rayo had pulled a goal back nine minutes from time through Alberto Bueno's penalty strike..
The sides were level in one aspect at the final whistle, as both had been reduced to ten men by then. Rayo lost Roman Triguero to a second booking, as he pulled Suarez down for the penalty that Messi converted ; Dani Alves was given his marching orders for the home side ten minutes from the end, when he tripped Bueno as he bore down on goal.
Barca now hold a slender one point advantage over Real with twelve games of the season left to play. Besides the battle going on between the two teams, there is a sub-plot in evidence between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with both players now tied on 30 goals in La Liga this campaign. Whoever wins that personal tussle, may well have a major influence on the destination of the league title this season. Messi has moved ahead of his great rival on hat-tricks in the league though, with Ronaldo now one behind the Argentinian.
Real lost to Bilbao 1-0 at the San Mames Stadium, thanks to Aritz Aduriz's header on 26 minutes. Despite looking to control the game in the second-half and hitting the post from a long-range strike by Welshman Gareth Bale, they could not force an equaliser.