Lionel Messi scored his 49th and 50th goals of an incredible season to put Racing Santander to the sword in Sunday's La Liga contest.

The Argentine wizard scored either side of halftime at El Sardinero to bring Barcelona back to 10 points behind rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

The match was a baptism of fire for new Santander coach Alvaro Cervera, who replaced the sacked Juan Jose Gonazalez on Saturday. Surely there is no less enviable task in world soccer right now than taking on a Barcelona side featuring Messi at the absolute peak of his game.

Still, Barcelona have struggled away from home this season, drawing five times from 12 away matches coming into the contest. So Santander certainly had hoped of frustrating their illustrious opponents.

As it happens, the home side were only able to hold out for 29 minutes before Barcelona established a lead that they never looked likely to relinquish.

Xavi dribbled past several players on the edge of the box before chipping a ball over to Fabregas down the right. The former Arsenal midfielder fired the ball across the box and Messi was able to turn the ball home with his outstretched boot.

The visitors had to wait until after the break to put the victory beyond reasonable doubt. Fabregas was cynically pulled down in the box by a desperate Domingo Cisma. Despite the referee correctly awarding a penalty, the Santander players reacted furiously, surrounding the official, which led to several of them receiving yellow cards.

After all the commotion, Messi placed the ball on the spot and calmly stroked it into the right side of the net, with Santander keeper Mario diving the wrong way.

Despite having a goal correctly disallowed for a clear offside, Santander never looked like making a comeback and Barcelona ran out clear winners.