Barcelona moved to the top of La Liga for the first time since early November as Lionel Messi struck his 32nd hat-trick for the club in a 6-1 thrashing of 10-man Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.
Real Madrid’s 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday handed Barca the chance to overtake the European champions and Luis Suarez wasted no time in taking advantage as he slotted home his sixth goal in as many games.
Gerard Pique doubled the hosts’ advantage just after half-time before Messi added a third from the penalty spot at the second attempt thanks to a reprieve from the referee after his initial effort was saved by Cristian Alvarez and Tito had been sent-off for a second bookable offence.
There was no controversy over the Argentine’s final two goals, though, as he moved level with Cristiano Ronaldo on 30 league goals for the season.
Both sides ended with 10 men when Dani Alves was shown a straight red card for bringing down Alberto Bueno inside the area and Bueno converted from the spot.
However, Barca had the final word when Suarez slammed home his second of the afternoon from Messi’s through ball.
“The objective is to be the leader when the season ends,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.
“I have always said the big teams will lose throughout the course of the season and it will continue to happen, therefore we have to be very careful.”