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Messi scores hat-trick as Barcelona moves towards the La Liga title

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as Barcelona took another step towards the La Liga title and set a new Spanish football record of 35 games unbeaten in the process with a 5-1 win at nine-man Rayo Vallecano.

Two goals in as many minutes midway through the first-half killed the game as a contest as Ivan Rakitic and Messi netted before Diego Llorente saw a straight red card for a high challenge on Rakitic yesterday.

Messi completed his hat-trick either side of Manucho’s consolation for Rayo.

Luis Suarez also missed a penalty after Manuel Iturra was also sent-off for the hosts before Arda Turan rounded off the scoring with his first Barca goal.

Barca now lead Atletico Madrid by eight points with Real Madrid a further four points adrift in third with 11 games remaining.

“We played very well and when we are at this level in terms of attitude and intensity, it is very hard for the opponents,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.

Rayo were unbeaten in their seven league games themselves and forced Barca ‘keeper Claudio Bravo into a smart early save as the Chilean international flew to his right to turn away Adrian Embarba’s drive.

However, Rayo’s high defensive line was offering plenty of encouragement to the European champions and it seemed only a matter of time before Barca took advantage as Carlos made a good save at his near post to deny Messi.

The opener arrived in unusual fashion for Barca, though, as an aimless ball punted into the box was dropped by Carlos and Rakitic was on hand to sweep into an empty net

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