Barcelona (Spain), Mar 12: Four days after scoring a record five times in the Champions League, Lionel Messi added two more goals to reach 50 for the second straight season and lead Barcelona to a 2-0 win at Racing Santander in the Spanish league.
Messi scored five in Barcelona's 7-1 win against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday, and his double on Sunday also enabled him to close to within five of matching Cesar Rodriguez's all-time club record of 235.
"Messi stands out from every other player in the world," Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. "It is a pleasure to play with him and to have him on the same team because he gives you that extra dose of confidence that every champion needs."
The Argentina forward has scored 16 goals in his past six matches for club and country. Messi had 53 goals in 55 matches for his club last season. He already has 50 in 43 matches so far this campaign.
Barcelona' fourth straight victory kept it 10 points behind runaway leader Real Madrid, but with 12 rounds to play the defending champions' chances of catching their fierce rival are dwindling.
Also, Athletic Bilbao lost 2-1 at Osasuna to be perhaps guilty of looking ahead to its second leg against Manchester United in the Europa League next week.
Messi broke through Racing's 10-man defense in the 29th minute, and the three-time FIFA World Player of the Year added a penalty in the 56th as Barcelona enjoyed a rare easy win away from Camp Nou.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, however, insisted that his team had been put to the test.
"We had to make a big effort," Guardiola said. "We played well on a pitch that didn't favor passing the ball. They packed in their defense, and that is never easy."
Racing coach Alvaro Cervera, who became the troubled club's third coach of the season on Friday, could do little but watch as Barcelona kept the relegation-threatened side winless for an eighth straight week.
Cervera made Racing's strategy clear from the start. While some teams have had limited success pressing Barcelona, the former Racing and Spain player opted for his side to sit back and try to resist its opponent's precision passing game.
But the hosts' defensive stance led to zero shots on goal and failed to stop Messi from taking his league goal tally to 30 — two behind Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the list.
"Entering the game 13 points behind (Madrid), we couldn't afford a slip," Guardiola said. "We imagined they could play one way or the other, but we had to come out looking for the win from the first minute."
Barcelona hardly missed the injured David Villa and Alexis Sanchez, with the trio of Messi, Fabregas and Andres Iniesta proving to be too much for Racing.
Barcelona dominated possession from the start but needed to get the hang of the uneven turf at El Sardinero stadium before Andres Iniesta hit the crossbar with a delicate chip shot in the 23rd.
The European champions eventually besieged Racing in its own area for Messi to score. He combined with Fabregas, pushing forward to dive and knock the midfielder's cross into the net for the sixth goal set up by Fabregas in the league this season.
Messi made it 2-0 from the penalty spot, coolly stroking the ball into the bottom right corner after Fabregas had been fouled in the area by Racing defender Domingo Cisma.
In Pamplona, Osasuna went ahead in the ninth minute through Ander Iturraspe's own goal, and midfielder Raul Garcia headed home to double the lead in the 31st.
Fernando Llorente went on for Bilbao after halftime and pulled one back with a blistering strike that rattled the underside of the bar before hitting the net for the Spain striker's 14th league goal.
Osasuna goalkeeper Andres Fernandez made an excellent diving save to deny Iker Muniain the equalizer in stoppage time.
Bilbao takes its 3-2 advantage from Old Trafford last week when it hosts Manchester United on Thursday.
Also on Sunday, it was: Atletico Madrid 2, Granada 0; Espanyol 5, Rayo Vallecano 1; and Valencia 2, Mallorca 2.
On Saturday, Madrid beat Real Betis 3-2 for a club-record 10th straight away win. Also, it was: Real Sociedad 3, Zaragoza 0; Malaga 1, Levante 0 and Sporting Gijon 1, Sevilla 0.
Villarreal plays Getafe on Monday.