Luis Suarez nets hat trick as Barcelona thrash 10-man Athletic Bilbao
Luis Suarez scored his second hat trick of the season as Barcelona obliterated 10-man Athletic Bilbao 6-0 at the Camp Nou.
Lionel Messi scored the opening goal from the penalty spot with just seven minutes gone after Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was sent off for bringing down Suarez, but the Argentina star was surprisingly taken off at half-time with a suspected hamstring problem.
Neymar added a second for Barca before the break, leaving Suarez to net three times in 35 minutes in the second half, while Ivan Rakitic also got on the scoresheet.
Barca move on to 45 points from 19 games but still trail Primera Division leaders Atletico Madrid by two points, although they have a game in hand.
Messi was serenaded by the Nou Camp faithful before kick-off in the first game at Barca's stadium since he collected a record fifth Ballon d'Or on Monday in Zurich.
A huge banner saying 'Congratulations Leo' was unfurled as he paraded the trophy in front of the fans and he was able to mark the celebrations by scoring Barca's first goal from the spot -- although his game ended prematurely at the break, taken off for Arda Turan as a precaution.
Although Barca trampled over Athletic once Messi had scored, Athletic missed an early chance that could have completely changed the dynamic of the game.
With two minutes on the clock Gerard Pique surrendered the ball to Iker Muniain on the edge of the area when attempting to give it to goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who was left stranded. The forward passed to Javier Eraso, who took too long to get his shot away and eventually sent the ball over the bar.
Barca went down the other end and a misplaced pass from Xabier Etxeita allowed Suarez to race into the box. In a panic, Iraizoz came out and sent the Uruguayan flying, giving referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz little option but to point to the spot and show a red card to the goalkeeper.
Iago Herrerin was brought on in place of Muniain and his first act was to pick the ball out of the bottom corner after Messi had smashed the penalty beneath him.
Athletic's task before the game had been made even harder as they were without top scorer Aritz Aduriz due to suspension, and once they were reduced to 10 men there was only going to be one winner.
Barca took full control of the game although they did not find their second until the half-hour mark. Rakitic recovered the ball deep in his own half and his pass was flicked on by Messi towards Suarez, who raced clear and fed Neymar. The Brazil forward took one touch before lifting it over Herrerin.
Suarez got in on the act just two minutes into the second half, playing a one-two with Neymar on the edge of the box and then creeping into the box to knock under Herrerin.
Neymar was again the provider for Barca's fourth, dancing past a defender by the left byline and cutting the ball back for Rakitic to tap in.
Athletic's resistance was getting weaker and weaker and five minutes later Suarez also scored from close range, controlling a cross from Arda with his chest inside the six-yard box and then poking the ball in at the near post.
And to complete his hat trick the Uruguayan broke free of his marker to nod Sergio Busquets' cross into the far corner and grab his 18th league goal of the season which keeps him top of the Primera Division's scoring charts.
The only consolation for Athletic is that they will have a chance to exact revenge on the Catalans for this particular mauling, meeting them twice in the next 10 days in the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey.