Messi's hat trick sends Barca to top of La Liga

Barcelona, Spain ( - Lionel Messi scored his 24th La Liga hat trick and Luis Suarez added two goals of his own to propel Barcelona to a 6-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, sending Barca to the top of the table.

Real Madrid's 1-0 defeat to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday opened the door for the Catalan side, and they burst through it in emphatic fashion, scoring five times in the second half to coast to the win.

Suarez tallied the opener after six minutes to give the home side the lead, and Gerard Pique made it 2-0 shortly after the break.

Rayo was reduced to 10 men in the 55th minute when Tito received a second yellow card for bringing down Suarez inside the area, allowing Messi to convert from the spot.

The Argentina international netted his second goal seven minutes later when a first-time shot from Suarez was spilled by the Rayo goalkeeper, leaving Messi to finish off the rebound.

Messi's third goal arrived in the 68th when he took a pass from Jordi Alba and danced past one defender before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting his shot into the empty net for his 30th goal of the campaign.

Daniel Alves saw red for Barcelona in the 80th minute when he fouled Alberto Bueno inside the penalty area, leaving Bueno to score a consolation goal from the penalty spot before Suarez capped the scoring in the closing moments for Barca.

Atletico Madrid and Valencia battled to a 1-1 draw in a meeting of top-four sides as Koke's first-half opener for Atletico was canceled out in the 78th minute by Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi.

Sunday's other games included Real Sociedad edging Espanyol, 1-0, courtesy of a first-half goal from Sergio Canales, while Villarreal rolled to a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo with two goals in each half.