Lionel Messi’s hat-trick inspired a record-breaking evening for Barcelona, who went 35 games unbeaten with a 5-1 win at Rayo Vallecano on Thursday.
Three changes for Barca saw Javier Mascherano come in for Jordi Alba, with Jeremy Mathieu moving to the left side of defence, while Sergi Roberto was reshuffled to the right due to Ivan Rakitic’s inclusion at the expense of Aleix Vidal. Elsewhere, Andres Iniesta replaced Arda Turan, but Dani Alves’ one-game ban for five yellow cards ruled him ineligible for selection.
Real Madrid set the existing unbeaten record of 34 matches all the way back in 1988 under Leo Beenhakker, and Barca looked good to break their arch-rivals’ run, having scored 18 goals and conceded none in their last four trips to Vallecas.
Rayo, adopting a typically gung-ho approach, meanwhile, knew anything but a loss would see them go eight unbeaten for the first time in their history, and they carved out the game’s first chance through Adri Embarba, who got the better of Mascherano and forced Claudio Bravo into a fingertip save over the bar from his long-range shot.
Nonetheless, Barca didn’t need long to stamp their authority on the game and went ahead – albeit with a huge slice of luck – when Juan Carlos dropped a corner and gifted Ivan Rakitic an easy finish from a couple of yards out on the rebound.
La Blaugrana then hit Rayo with a double-goal salvo as they went two up through Messi, Neymar having learnt his lesson from two failed one-on-ones as he broke clear down the left and cut the ball back for the Argentine to side-foot a finish past the goalkeeper.
With that, Barca had scored their 300th goal under Luis Enrique in little over a season-and-a-half, and their record-breaking evening took another positive turn as Real Madrid loanee Llorente threw himself into a high tackle on Rakitic and was promptly dismissed, despite the defender cleanly winning the ball first.
Barca needed just eight second-half minutes to score their third of the game as Sergi Roberto’s cross was deflected by Iturra and into the path of Suarez, whose volley hit the post, but Messi was there to poke home the rebound, which Juan Carlos just about got a hand to, although it was a futile one.
It seemed like nothing could blow the wind out of the League leaders’ sails, until a deep delivery was headed back across Claudio Bravo’s goal by Bebe for his ex-Manchester United teammate Manucho to bundle home for his fourth goal in three games, which meant the club had conceded more than they did in the entirety of La Liga last season.
Nonetheless, the goal amounted to nothing more than consolation and when Neymar’s free kick cannoned off Juan Carlos’ upright, Iturra became the second Rayo player to be dismissed after he took out Sergio Busquets from behind, with the midfielder in touching distance of tapping into an empty net.
That marked the second straight home game against Barca that Rayo had two players sent off, yet Suarez was accountable for his side’s ninth missed penalty of the season as he opted for power and could only marginally send the ball wide of centre to let Juan Carlos push the ball away.
Yet the miss was only a minor setback, and non-existent defending from Rayo gifted Messi a one-on-one with Juan Carlos, and he proceeded to slot a finish to the goalkeeper’s left, before substitute Arda flung a diving header into the roof of Los Vallecanos’ net for his first goal in Barca colours.
Rayo Vallecano 1-5 Barcelona
Rakitic 22, Messi 23, 53, 72, Arda 86 (B) Llorente sent off 42, Iturra sent off 67, Manucho 57 (RS)
Rayo Vallecano: Juan Carlos; Tito, Quini, Llorente, Crespo; Iturra, Trashorras; Piti (Jony 56), Embarba, Bebe (Amaya 71); Manucho (Guerra 80)
Barcelona: Bravo; Sergi (Vidal 72), Pique, Mascherano, Mathieu; Busquets (Vermaelen 77), Rakitic (Arda 66), Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Referee: Bikandi Garrido