Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 win over Racing Santander on Saturday, a victory which preserved the Spanish and European champion's one-point lead over Real Madrid in the Spanish League.

Messi's Argentinian international teammate Gonzalo Higuain had earlier scored his second hat-trick in a week to lead Real Madrid to a 4-1 mauling of Real Betis as Jose Mourinho's team temporarily dislodged Barcelona from top spot.

At Camp Nou, Messi's brace, which took his league total to 10 this season, and a rare header for captain Xavi Hernandez were enough to seal the points.

The result was never in doubt and Barcelona was able to take its foot off the pedal towards the end with one eye on Wednesday's Champions League match at home to Czech side Viktoria Plzen.

However, it will be without defender Gerard Pique who limped off with a right thigh injury and will be out for at least two weeks.

When asked how he keeps motivating Messi, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said: “Today I never said anything to him — I just gave him the shirt and told him to go out and play.” Barcelona needed just eight minutes to break through against Racing Santander.

Andres Iniesta, in his first game in a month after injury, turned cleverly in the area to find Messi who skipped around Santander goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez ‘Tono' to push the ball into an open net.

Barcelona's second came on 27 minutes from the head of Xavi after good work and a fine cross from Pedro Rodriguez on the left wing.

The chances continued to come and Messi was inches away from getting his second on 36 minutes.

A minute later Carles Puyol failed to finish from point blank range after Pedro Rodriguez had put him through. Santander defended stoutly and held out until the 67th minute when Barcelona got its third.

When Iniesta received a pass from Messi on the left hand side of the area he beat off two defenders with a magical feint before striking the post only for Messi to pounce to convert the rebound.

Ronaldo's 100th match

For Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo started his 100th match and Mourinho's team was quickly into its stride.

The results: Spanish League: Real Madrid 4 (Higuain 46, 69, 73, Kaka 58) bt Real Betis 1 (Molina 68); Real Mallorca 1 (Hemed 90+2-pen) drew with Valencia 1 (Rami 39); Getafe 0 drew with Villarreal 0; Barcelona 3 (Messi 11, 68, Xavi 27) bt Racing Santander 0; Granada 0 drew with Atletico Madrid 0.

Italian League: Catania 2 (Almiron 47, Lodi 51-pen) bt Inter Milan 1 (Cambiasso 6); AC Milan 3 (Nocerino 40, Robinho 55, Cassano 64) bt Palermo 0; Napoli 1 (Mascara 76) lost to Parma 2 (Gobbi 57, Modesto 82) . — AFP

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