A rampant Barcelona returned to the top of La Liga with an emphatic victory over Rayo Vallecano.
Barca went into the game in second place after Atletico Madrid beat Real Valladolid but it wasn’t long before Tata Martino’s side were climbing back towards the summit.
Paco Jemez promised an attacking Rayo side but it was Barca who started on the front foot, going ahead after two minutes when Adriano scored a drive from distance, the left-back blasting home with his supposedly weaker right foot.
Messi doubled the lead before the break with a record-equalling 336th goal, chipping in from just outside the penalty area after Cesc Fabregas won the ball back in midfield and played in the Argentine.
Alexis Sanchez added a third not long after the break when Messi’s perfectly weighted pass sprung the Rayo defence and Pedro Rodriguez made it four before the hour mark when he converted an intricate move with a simple finish.
Messi claimed his fifth of the game and the 337th of his career just past the hour mark. Cristian Tello replaced Messi with a quarter of an hour left, giving Messi a little more rest ahead of the Champions League tie with Manchester City on Tuesday.
Neymar finally lashed home from range as Barca destroyed Rayo with a performance any team in world football would struggle to cope.
Rayo had minor openings but Barca’s dominance was rarely threatened as the chances piled up. Andres Iniesta nearly scored from the half-way line, Alexis Sanchez failed to find Messi with a square ball and Messi and Pedro Rodriguez hit a post each, all in the first-half alone, before Messi finally increased the advantage with a sublime chip.
The goal took Messi level in La Liga strikes with Alfredo Di Stefano before his second gave him parity with Raul on 228. In the process Messi became Spain’s record goal scorer for a single club, beating Telmo Zarra’s tally with Athletic Bilbao.
Messi created the third, his through ball playing in Alexis as the score line started to reflect Barca’s dominance.
Rayo nearly pulled a goal back immediately after going three down, Valdes’ fingertips keeping out Larrivey but it was Barca who found the net next, Pedro tapping in after Fabregas burst from midfield and gave the winger an open goal.
Messi might get the headlines for his historic goals but Fabregas impressed as well and Iniesta was as crucial as anyone to the victory and the performance, playing with a class rarely matched.
Barca were not satisfied with four and continued to hound Rayo on the edge of their area, turning the ball over high up the pitch in vintage Blaugrana fashion. Dani Alves sent a shot wide before Messi claimed another.
Fabregas was denied a deserved goal by Ze Castro’s block, Barca playing exhibition stuff and Gerard Pique spending more time in Rayo’s box than Barca’s.
Neymar, introduced just after the hour, marked his comeback with a scorcher from distance, finding the back of the net from 25 yards after running from the half-way line.
The Brazil international’s return from a sprained ankle after eight games on the sidelines provided another fillip for Barca on a night were it seemed everything went right, Los Cules entering a performance it’ll be hard to top in this or any season.
Barca 6-0 Rayo
Scorers: Adriano 2, Messi 36 68, Alexis 53, Pedro 56, Neymar 89
Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol (Mascherano 68), Adriano; Busquets, Iniesta, Cesc; Alexis, Messi (Tello 74), Pedro (Neymar 62)
Rayo: Ruben; Arbilla (Tito 41), Saul, Ze Castro, Mojica; Baena, Trashorras; Falque, Bueno (Viera 62), Rochina; Larrivey (Longo 73)