Alexis hat trick sparks Barcelona rout
Alexis Sanchez scored his first hat trick for Barcelona to spark their 4-0 win over Elche at Camp Nou on Sunday, setting up a highly anticipated showdown with Atletico Madrid next week between the top two teams in La Liga.
Alexis opened the scoring in the seventh minute and struck twice more in the 63rd and 69th after Pedro had doubled the advantage and Xavi had missed a penalty kick.
With Lionel Messi watching from the stands and Neymar waiting in the dugout, Barcelona turned to Alexis and their core of Spain internationals for a second straight victory without their star forwards either side of the two-week winter break.
Alexis charged behind his marker to meet Jordi Alba's cross from the left and volley it into the corner of the net to get Barcelona rolling.
After Pedro made it 2-0, he took Andres Iniesta's through-ball and squared for Alexis to fire into the open net in the 63rd minute.
Moments later, Alexis earned a freekick from a foul outside the box that the Chile forward promptly curved over the defensive wall with a right-footed strike.
Barcelona's victory was their ninth in as many league games at home this season, and they returned to be tied on points with Atletico atop the standings. The pressure is now on Real Madrid come Monday when they host Celta Vigo, trailing the pace-setting pair by eight points.
Elsewhere, Real Sociedad downed Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in an entertaining Basque Country derby to close to within one point of their rivals in fourth place and Spain's last Champions League spot.
Sociedad took control of the back-and-forth match at Anoeta Stadium when Antoine Griezmann followed up his own rebound from long range for this 12th league goal of the season two minutes before halftime.
Bilbao sought the equaliser but it was Sociedad's Ruben Pardo who capped the victory in added time.
Carlos Bacca scored one goal and set up two more to help Sevilla beat Getafe 3-0 at home, provisionally lifting the club into sixth place behind Sociedad with their fifth victory in a six-game league unbeaten streak. Vitolo and Ivan Rakitic also rewarded the hosts' dominance.
Osasuna edged Espanyol 1-0 in Pamplona thanks to Alvaro Cejudo's 33rd-minute goal to escape the relegation zone. Espanyol coach Javier Aguirre was sent from the dugout in the second half, apparently for arguing with the referee.