Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as FC Barcelona beat Valencia CF 3-0 but Real Madrid CF returned to the Liga summit shortly after with a 4-1 win at Real Valladolid CF.
Manuel Pellegrini's side, eliminated from the UEFA Champions League by Olympique Lyonnais on Wednesday, kicked off knowing that only victory would enable them to reclaim top spot. Cristiano Ronaldo duly put them in front with a deflected free-kick 28 minutes in before another set-piece, delivered by Rafael van der Vaart, enabled Gonzalo Higuaín to double the lead on the stroke of half-time. Higuaín (52) sprinted clear and slotted in with aplomb soon after the interval and completed his treble 25 minutes from time after Valladolid had pulled one back through Raúl Albiol's own goal.
Barça had been frustrated for 45 minutes by Valencia but were an altogether different animal after the break thanks largely to Messi, but also to Thierry Henry, a half-time replacement for Bojan Krkić. Messi had already struck his first – a delightful run and finish that wrong-footed César Sánchez – and Valencia been reduced to ten men when Hedwiges Maduro (69) was dismissed, by the time Henry's influence came to the fore.
The France striker first played a perfect cross-field pass to Messi that the 22-year-old took in a stride that barely broke before a precise, curling shot on 81 minutes. Henry's next assist owed far more to subtlety and received an appropriate finish, Messi dinking past Sánchez to wrap up the points after Nikola Žigić had wasted the visitors' best chance when one-on-one with Víctor Valdés.
Elsewhere, CD Tenerife eased their relegation worries with a 4-1 win against RCD Espanyol, Villarreal CF beat rock-bottom Xerez CD 2-0, Málaga CF lost 1-0 at UD Almería and Real Racing Racing Club drew 0-0 with Real Zaragoza.
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|Last updated: 03/07/2011 05:00 CET|
Manu 58, 69 (o.g.), 84
Vera Mateos 90+4
Jesús Navas 49
Bojan Krkić 30
Diego Castro 90+2 (p)
|Venue: San Sebastian|
Juanlu Gómez 37
Benzema 24, 56
Agüero 39, 61