Madrid, Spain: Barcelona cruised to the top of the Spanish Liga Saturday with a 4-0 caning of Granada, with Lionel Messi putting away his first hat-trick of the season.
Barca are now one point above second-placed Atletico Madrid, who will retake top spot if they win Sunday at fifth-placed Celta Vigo.
Third-placed Real Madrid are just one point below Atletico after a 5-0 destruction of Deportivo La Coruna featuring a hat-trick for Gareth Bale, in what was a promising debut on the Real bench for new coach Zinedine Zidane.
Saturday started with Barca trouncing Granada 4-0, with a hat-trick from Messi plus a final goal from Neymar.
The little Argentine - who is favourite to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or Monday - has scored five goals in two matches, starting with Wednesday's cup brace against Espanyol.
Messi opened the scoring against Granada in the eighth minute by turning in a centre from Arda Turan - who was making his league debut for Barca - then quickly made it 2-0 by finishing a move between Neymar and Luis Suarez.
Messi completed his hat-trick in the 57th minute by turning in the rebound after Neymar had hit the post, then Neymar ended the rout by making it 4-0 seven minutes from the end.
"The final score makes it look like an easy match, but it really wasn't," Barca coach Luis Enrique said.
"I was pleased with my players today, they showed a lot of initiative and creativity."
Aleix Vidal made a promising league debut for Barca at right-back. Like Turan, Vidal signed for Barca last summer but has been unable to play until this week because of the 2014 transfer ban from FIFA, for having underage foreign youngsters in the club's youth scheme.
"Arda and I knew when we signed that we would have to wait for six months," Vidal said.
"We are both delighted to be finally playing, and both working hard to adapt ourselves to the team's style ... We just want to help the club in whatever way we can."
Meanwhile, the defeat in Barcelona left Granada fourth bottom.
"We knew we were going to have a difficult time of it today," Granada defender David Lomban said.
"Barca are a wonderful team, they never stop coming at you from all directions. You can never relax playing against them, there is always a new threat just around the corner."
Later Saturday, Zidane made a successful debut on the Real Madrid bench, with a 5-0 thumping of defensively feeble Deportivo.
Gareth Bale banged in a hat-trick for Real either side of two goals from Karim Benzema, as optimism returned to the Estadio Bernabeu after the unhappy reign of Rafa Benitez.
"What I most enjoyed today was the attitude of the players. It is not easy to win 5-0," Zidane said.
"I would like to say thanks to the fans for the warm reception they gave me today. But the fans come to see the players, not the coach ... There are certain things we need to improve, but we have time to do that."
Meanwhile, his Deportivo counterpart Victor Sanchez said: "We made too many mistakes in defence today to be able to compete against a top team like Real Madrid ... We were far too innocent and generous."
Also Saturday, Sevilla moved up to sixth with a 2-0 home defeat of Athletic Bilbao, on a brace from Kevin Gameiro.
Bilbao veteran Raul Garcia suffered a serious knee injury, and his team fell down to seventh.
Getafe beat struggling Real Betis 1-0, on a goal from Alvaro Vazquez, and moved up to 12th. Betis - who have picked up just two points in six games - are now 14th, with coach Pepe Mel in massive danger.
Saturday's late game saw bottom team Levante beat fellow strugglers Rayo Vallecano 2-1, on goals from Deyverson and Jose Morales.
Levante now have 14 points, Rayo and Sporting Gijon have 15 apiece.
Published Date: Jan 10, 2016 15:55 PM | Updated Date: Jan 10, 2016 15:55 PM