Barcelona opened up a six-point lead at the top of La Liga’s summit after Lionel Messi’s brace inspired a 5-1 rout of Athletic Bilbao, with Real Madrid then seeing off second-placed Atletico Madrid 2-0 in the late kick-off.
Messi’s 83rd and 84th goals of the calendar year left the Argentina forward needing just one more goal to equal Gerd Muller’s record of 85 in a calendar year, set in 1972.
The result was never in doubt at the Nou Camp as two goals in three minutes, from Gerard Pique and a deflected Messi effort, midway through the opening 45 minutes put Barça firmly in the ascendancy and Adriano added a superb third in first-half stoppage time.
Cesc Fabregas notched a neat fourth soon after the break and, after Ibai Gomez had pulled a goal back with Athletic’s first noteworthy attack of the match, Messi rounded things off with a brilliant fifth goal.
The emphatic win consolidated top spot in La Liga for Tito Vilanova’s team, whose only dropped points in 14 games this term came in the 2-2 draw against Real Madrid in October, making their start the best ever to a top-flight season in Spain.
And what has happened to Athletic Bilbao? Last season they took Manchester United apart in the Europa League on the way to reaching the final. This season they have managed only four league wins in 14 games. Depending on how results go on Sunday, Athletic could find themselves only one point above the drop zone by the end of the weekend. An unthinkable situation before the season started.
Third-placed Real Madrid remained 11 points off the pace after winning a highly-anticipated derby 2-0, ensuring Atletico’s winless run in the fixture will stretch into its 14th year. A wonderful free-kick from Cristiano Ronaldo lit up what was an otherwise disappointing first half before Mesut Ozil secured all three points with a tidy finish 25 minutes from time.
Earlier this evening, ten-man Valencia went down 5-2 against Real Sociedad – with coach Mauricio Pellegrino sacked soon after the full-time whistle at the Mestalla.
Roberto Soldado’s second-minute strike had given the hosts an early lead but they were never in control and were pegged back before half-time as Alberto de la Bella fired in an equaliser minutes after Jonas had seen a straight red card for lashing out at David Zurutuza.
Sociedad took control in the second period as further goals from Mikel Gonzalez, Diego Ifran, Imanol Agirretxe and Carlos Vela rendered Soldado’s second of the evening meaningless and lifted the victors to seventh.
Also in the Spanish top flight today, Getafe moved level on points with fourth-placed Malaga thanks to a 1-0 win. Alberto Lopo headed home the game’s only goal 11 minutes into the second half.