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The Argentine struck twice to surpass his latest landmark with club and country, in a 5-0 win for the Catalans at Rayo Vallecano which keeps the pressure on their biggest rivals

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

It must be demoralising for Real Madrid. Crowned champions just a few months ago, Jose Mourinho's men find themselves 11 points behind going into Sunday's match at Mallorca - and they will need to win it simply to stay in touch with their fiercest rivals in La Liga.

Barcelona were in action in the Spanish capital on Saturday and, following a somewhat slow start in Vallecas, soon took complete control as they marched to an eighth win out of nine in La Liga this term to equal their best-ever beginning to a season. Tito Vilanova's team are now level with Louis van Gaal's 1997-98 side (which featured a certain Pep Guardiola) on eight wins and a draw. Avoid defeat against Celta Vigo next weekend and they will claim the record outright.

IN NUMBERS
Messi's latest landmarks
6 Messi has six assists, one less than Cesc Fabregas. Cristiano still has none so far this season
17 Leo has 17 strikes for Barca already in 2012-13, in just 14 games
44 He is the first player to hit 44 Liga goals in a calendar year, surpassing Ronaldo's 43 in 2011
73 Messi has 73 goals in 2012, leaving him two short of Pele's record of 75.
246 Most of his goals have come with his left foot; 41 on his right; 12 headers; one arm; one chest
301 In total, the Argentine has hit 301 goals - 270 for Barca and 31 for the Albiceleste
Guardiola's men never managed such a spectacular start, but they did thrash Rayo Vallecano 7-0 in the capital last season, in a game which came only two days after he had held back tears to announce his departure in an emotional press conference in Barcelona.

On that day, the Catalan club took the opportunity to name Vilanova as his replacement and Tito's team fared well in this fixture, even though Rayo's early intensity made life difficult for the visitors. David Villa opened the scoring after 19 minutes to make it four league goals for him this season and net his first as a starter this term. That was good news for Barca, as was Cesc Fabregas' assist.

The Catalan midfielder has discovered his very best form following a difficult first year at the club and ended the night with a fine goal as he volleyed home from Pedro's cross, and another assist - this time for Lionel Messi.

And it was the Argentine along with Cesc, who stole the show as usual, smashing home a superb second for Barca shortly after the restart and adding the fifth with a trademark run and slotted shot right at the end. Those were his 300th and 301st goals at senior level, all at the age of just 25. As Guardiola often said: there really are very few words left to describe his talents.

Former Madrid midfielder Guti lamented earlier this week that the attacker does not ply his trade with the capital club. Inspired by their fabulous forward, Barca are way out in front in La Liga with 25 points now, although they can be caught by Atletico Madrid on Sunday if Diego Simeone's side beat Osasuna at home.

Barca will surely endure a dip in form at some stage but Madrid must make sure they are within striking distance when that happens. And that means matching the Catalans blow for blow over the coming weeks. Against Mallorca on Sunday, only a win will do. But that is just the start because, at the moment, Messi and his men are comfortably ahead.

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