Football

Published: Sunday February 16, 2014 MYT 5:37:01 AM
Updated: Sunday February 16, 2014 MYT 5:37:09 AM

Messi tops Di Stefano as Barca, Atleti go clear

Barcelona's Lionel Messi tries to score against Rayo Vallecano during their Spanish first division soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona February 15, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Barcelona's Lionel Messi tries to score against Rayo Vallecano during their Spanish first division soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona February 15, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea

MADRID (Reuters) - Lionel Messi overhauled Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano's La Liga goals tally as Barcelona and Atletico Madrid each won on Saturday to pull three points clear of Real at the top.

Messi struck twice in Barca's 6-0 thrashing of strugglers Rayo Vallecano at the Nou Camp to take his total to 228 goals from 263 matches, one more than Di Stefano.

Still only 26, Messi climbed above his Argentine compatriot to joint third on the all-time list behind record marksman Telmo Zarra (251) and Hugo Sanchez (234) and level with Raul.

Atletico's Raul Garcia and Diego Costa struck early to set up a 3-0 home win over Real Valladolid.

Barcelona and Atletico now have 60 points from 24 matches ahead of Real who play at Getafe on Sunday.

Barca, chasing a fifth La Liga title in six years, totally outclassed Madrid-based Rayo and took the lead in the second minute when fullback Adriano cut inside from the left and his low effort scooted inside the far post.

Messi and Pedro then cracked shots off the frame of the goal before a pinpoint Cesc Fabregas pass sent Messi clear in the 36th minute and he produced one of his brilliant chips over onrushing goalkeeper Ruben.

The four-times World Player of the Year released Alexis on the right to make it 3-0 eight minutes after the break before a moment of inspiration from Andres Iniesta helped create Barca's fourth in the 56th.

The Spain playmaker's backheel put Fabregas through and he squared for Pedro to tap into an empty net as a dominant Barca turned the screw on their hapless visitors.

Messi scored his second with a precise shot from the edge of the area in the 68th and Neymar crowned a near-perfect night for Barca when he came off the bench and netted a fierce long-range drive in the 89th minute.

The Brazil forward has been out injured for a month and his reappearance suggested he could play a role in Tuesday's Champions League last 16, first leg match at Manchester City.

PERFECT START

Atletico came into the game at their Calderon stadium after resounding losses in both legs of their King's Cup semi-final against city rivals Real either side of a surprise 2-0 La Liga reverse at promoted Almeria.

Diego Simeone's side needed a convincing performance to lift morale before Wednesday's Champions League game at AC Milan and Garcia gave them the perfect start.

He picked up Gabi's clever free kick in the third minute and netted with a first-time strike from the edge of the area.

A minute later Garcia conjured a fine assist for Costa and the Brazil-born forward lifted the ball over Valladolid keeper Diego Marino for his 21st league goal of the campaign, one behind top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo of Real.

With a two-goal cushion, Atletico played well within themselves for the rest of the match and centre back Diego Godin added a third in the 74th with a header from a Diego corner.

Valladolid, who have won only four games this term, are down in 18th on 21 points, one ahead of second-bottom Rayo.

(Editing by Clare Lovell)

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