Lionel Messi struck a brace to highlight a superb Barcelona performance as they moved back to the top of La Liga in fine style with a 6-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou.

Looking to close the three-point gap Atletico Madrid had opened up earlier in the day, Barcelona got off to an ideal start courtesy of Adriano’s strike inside two minutes. Lionel Messi then scored with an outlandish chip before the break to all-but secure victory before Alexis Sanchez, Pedro and Messi added further goals after the interval.

Completing an evening to remember, Neymar then capped his return from injury with a stunning long-range strike in injury time. It was a close to perfect match for Barcelona coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, as his side produced one of their finest performances under his command. Ahead of the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Manchester City, Barcelona look in rude health.

The tone was set against their relegation-troubled opponents right from the off. Adriano, in the side in place of Jordi Alba, produced what is becoming a trademark goal as he cut in from the flank and curled a fine low shot into the far corner of the net form the edge of the area.

From then on, Barcelona cut their opponents apart seemingly at will. Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta, while not on the score-sheet, were outstanding throughout and each could have had an early assist but saw first Messi and then Pedro strike the post.

Rayo did provide the occasional threat, but Victor Valdes was alert to the danger, making a solid double stop to maintain Barcelona’s advantage. When the second goal did arrive for the hosts it was well worth the wait. Fabregas set Messi away, who with Ruben Martinez rushing out to the edge of his box, somehow dinked the ball up over the head of the Rayo goalkeeper and down into the waiting net. The memorable strike was a fitting way for Messi to become the highest goal-scorer ever for a single Spanish club.

Since returning from injury, Messi’s game has seemingly evolved to where he has equal responsibility for creating and scoring goals. And he provided a fine example to put his side 3-0 to the good eight minutes into the second half. Dropping deep, Messi took advantage of the gaping space to his right with a pass into the stride of Sanchez, who produced the coolest of finishes inside the near post.

Rayo could do nothing to stem the wave of attacks and a fourth goal arrived just three minutes later. Fabregas and Iniesta combined brilliantly, with the latter flicking the ball delightfully back into the path of the former Arsenal man down the left. With deceptive ease, Fabregas laid the ball across the edge of the six yard box where Pedro was on hand to turn it into the net.

Fabregas was again involved as Barcelona got their fifth. This time the midfielder was the instigator with a piercing ball into the feet of Sanchez on the edge of the area. The Chilean waited before passing it to his right for Messi, who nonchalantly placed the ball low into the corner. The strike moved Messi above the great Alfredo di Stefano and level with Raul as the fourth highest scorer in the history of the Spanish league on 228.

As if that wasn’t enough for the watching Catalan public, Neymar provided a timely reminder of his game-winning quality. The Brazilian had understandably looked a little rusty since coming off the bench following a month on the sidelines, but showed none of that when he ran from just inside the Rayo half, shook off one challenge and then smashed an unstoppable strike into the top corner.