Madrid, March 4 (IANS) Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as FC Barcelona restored their eight-point lead over Atletico Madrid and 12-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga following a comfortable 5-1 win away over Rayo Vallecano, who finished the game with nine men.
Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring after 22 minutes when Rayo keeper Juan Carlos dropped a straight-forward cross to allow the Croatian to score a simple goal, reports Xinhua.
Messi doubled Barcelona’s lead just a minute later after a counter-attack. The Argentinean took a pass from Neymar to score with a first time shot, although the goal should not have stood as Neymar was slightly offside at the start of the move.
The league leaders’ task was made significantly easier just before the break when Rayo defender Diego Llorente was sent off for a high tackle on Rakitic, although he was unlucky as TV replays showed he had clearly got to the ball well before his momentum carried him into the Barcelona midfielder.
Rayo are a brave side and kept on trying in the second half with Barcelona happy to create chances on the break. Messi netted his second of the night after Suarez had hit the post after another counter-attack eight minutes after the break.
Manucho gave the home side a reward that their attitude deserved when he scored a close-range header just four minutes later.
Ray were down to nine men with 20 minutes remaining as Manuel Iturra was deemed to have denied Barcelona a goalscoring opportunity as he brought down Sergio Busquets, only for Luis Suarez to miss yet another penalty.
It mattered little as Messi scored his third of the night three minutes later after getting through the Rayo defence and Arda Turan headed a fifth in the 86th minute.