Lionel Messi rattled in a 17-minute hat-trick as Barcelona swept aside Real Mallorca 5-0 on Saturday while Real Madrid went top of La Liga with a 1-0 win at Real Sociedad.
World Player of the Year Messi has not been at his best in recent games, failing to score in three outings, but quashed any debate over his form with a first-half treble at the Nou Camp that took his league tally this season to 13.
Barca youngster Isaac Cuenca and Dani Alves wrapped up the scoring in the second half to leave the champions second with 24 points from 10 games, one behind leaders Real.
Gonzalo Higuain gave Jose Mourinho’s in-form Real Madrid a ninth-minute lead in San Sebastian but the team that netted 28 times in their previous seven matches were denied another hefty win by the battling Basques.
Levante, who have dropped to third with 23 points, can reclaim top spot with an eighth consecutive victory at Osasuna on Sunday.
Barca coach Pep Guardiola left four World Cup winners on the bench, with a fifth (Xavi) resting in the stands, but they were not missed at the Nou Camp.
The hosts won a penalty for hand-ball in the 13th minute and Messi, who had a last-minute spot kick saved last weekend, blasted the ball high into the net.
Adriano’s cross-cum-shot was turned in by the Argentine in the 21st and Messi then volleyed the third from an Alves cross in the 30th.
Barca youth team forward Cuenca notched the fourth on his home debut in the 50th minute, rounding the keeper from Thiago Alcantara’s defence-splitting pass, before Alves crashed in a fifth from distance at the end.
“It was madness when they said I was in crisis after three games,” Messi told Spanish television.
“It doesn’t bother me. I score when I can and when I don’t the important thing is the team win.”
Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes kept a clean sheet for an eighth game in a row and edged towards a club record.
The Spanish international last conceded 787 minutes ago, in a 2-2 draw at Valencia last month, and is only 37 minutes short of the mark held by Miguel Reina, father of Liverpool keeper Pepe, from the 1972-73 season.
Valencia 3 (Feghouli 12, 25, Aduriz 76) Getafe 1 (Diego Castro 23)
Villarreal 2 (Bruno 20, Borja Valero 67) Rayo Vallecano 0
Barcelona 5 (Messi 13-pen, 21, 30, Cuenca 50, Dani Alves 90+2)
Real Mallorca 0
Real Sociedad 0 Real
Madrid 1 (Higuain 9)
Sporting Gijon 1 (Bilic 71) Athletic Bilbao 1 (Susaeta 63)