Lionel Messi scored within three minutes of returning to action for the first time in more than three weeks to help fire La Liga champions Barcelona to a resounding 4-0 home win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
Atletico Madrid retained top spot by thrashing bottom side Granada 7-1 thanks to a hat-trick from Yannick Carrasco.
In Barcelona, Brazilian midfielder Rafinha put Barca ahead in the 21st minute with the help of lax goalkeeping from Deportivo’s German Lux and slid in the second goal in the 36th after the stopper failed to hold Gerard Pique’s header.
Luis Suarez combined with Neymar to stretch Barca’s lead two minutes before the break and substitute Messi latched on to a through ball from the Brazilian to stroke the ball high into the net in the 58th.
“Messi did not take long to make his mark on the game,” said Luis Enrique, who adopted an unorthodox 3-5-2 formation for the second time this season.
“Our aim was to surprise them and it worked how we wanted it to. We created lots of chances and they created none. Deportivo have conceded very few goals this season and we got four.”
Former Barcelona forward Isaac Cuenca gave winless Granada a shock lead in the 18th minute with an impressive strike but Carrasco pulled Atletico in front with goals in the 34th and 45th, completing his treble in the 61st.
Nicolas Gaitan scored his first goal for Atletico two minutes after coming off the bench, netting with his first touch, and struck again in the 81st, while late strikes from Angel Correa and midfielder Tiago completed the rout.
Atletico are top on 18 points, one ahead of Sevilla, while Barca are third on 16. Real Madrid visit Real Betis later on Saturday.
Earlier on Saturday, a late strike from Pablo Sarabia gave Sevilla a dramatic 3-2 win at Leganes to end their 17-month spell without an away league win.
Franco Vazquez gave Jorge Sampaoli’s side the lead in the 25th minute and they looked well on their way to ending their barren spell on the road when Samir Nasri doubled the lead in the 58th from close range.
A familiar feeling must have gripped Sevilla when quick-fire strikes from David Timor and Alexander Szymanowski in the space of three minutes put the home side level, but Sarabia smashed in from outside the area with five minutes remaining to earn a first away win since they beat Malaga in May 2015.