Lionel Messi nets hat trick as Barca win at 9-man Rayo Vallecano
Lionel Messi scored a third hat trick of the season as Barcelona smashed nine-man Rayo Vallecano 5-1 and recorded a tenth straight league win.
Ivan Rakitic took advantage of a goalkeeping clanger by Juan Carlos to break the deadlock midway through the first half, and moments later Messi combined with Neymar to side foot into the bottom corner and consolidate Barca's lead, while Diego Llorente made things even harder for Rayo by getting sent off before half-time for a rash challenge on Rakitic.
Messi grabbed Barca's third early in the second half by pouncing on a loose ball when Luis Suarez hit a post, and then the Argentine completed his treble after Manucho had pulled one back for the hosts and Suarez had missed a penalty, which lead to Manuel Iturra being sent off for Rayo.
Arda Turan put the final nail in the coffin for Paco Jemez's side as the final whistle approached.
Barca hold an eight point lead over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid at the top of the table and set a Spanish record of 35 games unbeaten in all competitions, while Rayo are left on the edge of the relegation zone, level with 18th-placed Granada on 26 points.
Barca have beaten Rayo in every meeting with the Vallecas club since they returned to the top flight in 2011, but Jemez's men went into the game unbeaten in their last seven matches, and made a typically intense start.
Adrian Embarba went for goal early on from the edge of the area after shuffling past Javier Mascherano, but Claudio Bravo tipped the shot away for a corner. The midfielder had another opportunity a few minutes later after Manucho dispossessed Gerard Pique, but again Bravo was equal to the effort.
Barca got settled in the game soon enough and Messi was denied the opening goal due to the quick reactions of Carlos.
But the Rayo custodian soon embarrassed himself by gifting Barca the opener, dropping a cross at the feet of Rakitic, who calmly slotted into the unguarded net.
Rayo quickly unravelled after conceding the first and were soon another goal down. Messi created space for himself in midfield and released Neymar down the left, the Brazilian beating a defender before cutting the ball back for Messi to calmly tap home.
Llorente's challenge on Rakitic reduced Rayo to 10 men before half-time and the ground had opened up for Barca to go on and dominate the remainder of the game. Their next goal came from a sweeping team move, Sergi Roberto crossing for Suarez to fire against the post, and Messi gleefully accepting the rebound.
Rayo managed to get a goal a couple of minutes later when Manucho headed Bebe's knock down in from a couple of feet out.
Suarez should have scored Barca's fourth when being presented with a penalty for a trip by Iturra on Sergio Busquets when the midfielder was clean through on goal, but Carlos saved the Uruguayan's spot-kick.
Instead it was Messi who got the fourth, racing onto a through ball by Busquets and providing the finishing touch.
And there was still time for Turan to grab his first goal for Barca, arriving to head home a cross from Jeremy Mathieu.
Neymar picked up a late yellow card and will miss Barcelona's next match against Eibar.