Lionel Messi smashed through the 300-goal mark with a brace as Barcelona crushed Rayo Vallecano 5-0 in Madrid on Saturday to go three points clear at the top of La Liga.
David Villa, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas got the other goals to put the pressure back onto second-placed Atletico Madrid which entertains Osasuna on Sunday.
Messi’s goals were the 300th and 301st of his career, a total made up of 270 for Barcelona and 31 for Argentina in only 419 matches. They also took him to 13 in the league this season and 73 in all competitions in 2012.
That’s just two behind Pele’s 75 for Santos and Brazil in 1959, and only 12 shy of Gerd Mueller’s all-time best calendar year record of 85 goals for Bayern Munich and West Germany in 1972.
Rayo started brightly and had claims for a penalty turned down on eight minutes when Fabregas appeared to hold back Leo Baptistao.
Rayo was pressuring the Catalans and it took until the 19th minute for Barcelona to have its first shot when Messi drove wide. However, a minute later, Barcelona was ahead.
The chance came from nothing when Fabregas picked up a loose ball and played in Villa with a probing pass that the Spanish national team’s all-time top scorer finished first time with his right foot.
Fabregas was the supplier again for Villa seven minutes later, but this time his shot was saved by Ruben Martinez in the Rayo goal.
Two minutes later, Ruben advanced quickly to block a Fabregas effort after Messi had found the ex-Arsenal man in space.
Messi went close with a curled free-kick and as a hard fought first-half drew to a close Andrija Delibasic forced Victor Valdes into a save at the other end.
Within two minutes of the restart, Messi had doubled the lead.
Pedro Rodriguez found Martin Montoya in an advanced wide position and the right-back pulled the ball back for the little Argentine who steered it first time into the top right corner of the net.
Javi Fuego then hit a rasping left-footed drive that Valdes pushed wide and Jordi Amat tried his luck from distance as the home side looked for a quick way back into the match.
Valdes was earning his wages as he next got down well to stop another drive from Fuego.
Barcelona was quick to sense the danger and began to close down the game with a more measured approach that restricted Rayo’s attacking forays.
Xavi and Fabregas then added two more in two minutes with 10 minutes remaining.
With two minutes left, Messi raced onto a Fabregas pass to get his second and his side’s fifth.
The results: Spanish league : Espanyol 0 drew with Malaga 0; Real Betis 1 (Sevilla 9) bt Valencia 0; Celta Vigo 1 (Bermejo 8) drew with Deportivo La Coruna 1 (Dominguez Lamas 29); Rayo Vallecano 0 lost to Barcelona 5 (Villa 20, Messi 48, 89, Xavi 78, Fabregas 80).
Serie A : Siena 0 drew with Palermo 0; AC Milan 1 (Stephan El Shaarawy 77) bt Genoa 0.