Madrid: Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 win over Racing Santander on Saturday, a victory which preserved the Spanish and European champions' one-point lead over Real Madrid in La Liga.
Messi's Argentinian international teammate Gonzalo Higuain had earlier hit his second hat-trick in a week to lead Real Madrid to a 4-1 mauling of Real Betis as Jose Mourinho's team temporarily dislodged Barcelona from top spot.
At Camp Nou, Messi's brace, which took his league total to 10 this season, and a rare header for captain Xavi Hernandez were enough to seal the points.
The result was never in doubt and Barca were able to take their foot off the pedal towards the end with one eye on Wednesday's Champions League match at home to Czech side Viktoria Plzen.
However, they will be without defender Gerard Pique who limped off with a right thigh injury and will be out for at least two weeks.
When asked how he keeps motivating Messi, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said: "Today I never said anything to him - I just gave him the shirt and told him to go out and play."
Barcelona needed just eight minutes to break through against Racing Santander.
Andres Iniesta, in his first game in a month after injury, turned cleverly in the area to find Messi who skipped around Santander goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez 'Tono' to push the ball into an open net.
Barcelona's second came on 27 minutes from the head of Xavi after good work and a fine cross from Pedro Rodriguez on the left wing.
The chances continued to come and Messi was inches away from getting his second on 36 minutes.
A minute later Carles Puyol failed to finish from point blank range after Pedro Rodriguez had put him through.
Santander defended stoutly and held out until the 67th minute when Barca got their third.
When Iniesta received a pass from Messi on the left hand side of the area he beat off two defenders with a magical feint before striking the post only for Messi to pounce to convert the rebound.
Higuain had hit three for Argentina in a World Cup qualifying victory against Chile and his golden streak continued on Saturday with Real Madrid.
But despite Higuain's scoring prowess, Mourinho insists that French international Karim Benzema is also in his thoughts when it comes to his starting line-up.
"Higuain is better than before and between him and Benzema it is difficult to talk about who is the sub and who plays," said Mourinho.
"Karim was on the bench because we needed him. They are two very different forwards with one thing in common - they both score goals."
For Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo started his 100th match and Mourinho's team were quickly into their stride.
Kaka whipped in a dangerous cross from the left which Betis goalkeeper Casto Espinosa was only able to parry out to Mesut Ozil whose shot was charged down by defender Antonio Amaya.
On 21 minutes it was again the in-form Kaka who found Higuain with space to centre for Ronaldo whose glancing header should have put Madrid ahead.
Just before the break, Ronaldo teed-up Kaka but the Brazilian's shot went narrowly wide and a closely fought first-half finished goalless.
Madrid were ahead with 30 seconds of the restart.
Marcelo's long, raking pass found Ronaldo's attacking run down the left and one touch was all he needed to present Higuain with an open goal.
Casto Espinosa came to Betis' rescue on 56 minutes, blocking acrobatically twice to deny Higuain and then Kaka.
However he could do nothing two minutes later when Kaka placed a curling right-footed shot into the bottom right corner.
Jorge Molina pulled a goal back for Betis from close range on 69 minutes after Ruben Castro fought his way through the Madrid defence, but any hope Betis had of taking anything from the game lasted less than a minute.
Angel Di Maria found Higuain with a beautifully weighted pass from the right wing that left the Argentine to neatly take the ball round Casto and finish into an open net.
On 73 minutes Higuain completed his hat-trick when his compatriot Di Maria again found him with a defence splitting pass that he chipped over the oncoming Casto.
Valencia missed out on joining Madrid on 16 points after drawing 1-1 at Mallorca.
A Mehmet Topal handball in the third minute of time added-on allowed Israeli Tomer Hemed to equalise from the spot for Mallorca after French international defender Adil Rami had scored from close range on 38 minutes for Valencia.
In the late game, Atletico Madrid missed a chance to make up ground on the early pace setters after a 0-0 draw away to Granada.