Seven-goal Barcelona run riot at Rayo
Barcelona ended one of the most disappointing weeks in their recent history with an emphatic 7-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano that ensures Real Madrid will have to wait at least a few more days to win La Liga title.
With Real Madrid beating Sevilla earlier today to move ten points clear at the summit, Jose Mourinho's men would have been crowned champions if Barça had lost at Rayo but the Catalan giants were not about to relinquish their title with a whimper in the capital.
Lionel Messi started and finished the scoring, with Barça's other goals coming from a Pedro Rodriguez brace, Seydou Keita, Thiago and a Robert own goal. The result leaves Barca seven points behind Real Madrid with three games remaining and was the perfect response to a week that has rocked the Nou Camp club.
As if last weekend's home defeat to Real, which left their arch rivals on the verge of the title, was not bad enough, Barcelona then saw their UEFA Champions League defence come to an end after they were dumped out by Chelsea in the semi-finals in midweek.
Perhaps the biggest blow came on Friday though, when coach Pep Guardiola announced he would be stepping down in the summer after a record-breaking four years in charge which has seen him lead Barça to 13 titles, with a 14th on offer in next month's Copa del Rey final. Losing Guardiola is a blow for Barca, but the man who is going to replace him, his assistant Tito Vilanova, will inherit one of the greatest teams in history and one that Rayo simply could not live with tonight.
The hosts, who remain in serious relegation trouble after suffering a seventh defeat in eight games, had early claims for a penalty turned down following a mistake by stand-in Barça goalkeeper Jose Pinto, but after that it was all one-way traffic.
Messi opened the scoring in the 16th minute when he tapped in Pedro's pass across the face of goal and, after Pinto had parried Diego Costa's glancing header to keep Barcelona ahead, the visitors went 2-0 up in the 26th minute. Messi robbed a Rayo defender of possession and Alexis Sanchez was immediately sent through into the area. The Chilean was pushed wide as he skipped past Rayo goalkeeper David Cobeno, but his low cross-shot was deflected into his own net by Robert.
To add injury to insult for the Rayo defender, he collided with the post in trying to keep out that Alexis cross and he had to be substituted soon after. Pinto made another good save to push away Roberto Trashorras's superb curling free-kick, but it was Barça back on the attack in the 38th minute when Keita made it 3-0 after good work by Messi.
Rayo would have hoped for better fortune after the break, but it took Barcelona just 60 seconds of the second half to increase their lead with Pedro tapping into an empty net after Messi had struck the underside of the crossbar with a side-footed effort.
Thiago curled an effort just wide as Barça sought a fifth, and it was the young playmaker who did make it 5-0 in the 77th minute with a downward header from Dani Alves' right-wing cross. They then added two more goals late on to compound Rayo's misery and wrap up a one-side victory - with Messi and Pedro once again involved in both.
Pedro made it 6-0 in the 87th minute after being found unmarked in the area by Messi, and then the two reversed roles two minutes later for Barça's seventh, Pedro laying the ball back for Messi to side-foot into the net for the Argentinian's 43rd league goal of the year.