MADRID - Barcelona moved back to the top of La Liga on goal difference with a comfortable 4-0 win over Elche on Sunday thanks to a hat-trick from Alexis Sanchez.
The Catalans are tied with Atletico Madrid on 49 points with the two set to meet for the first time in the Spanish soccer league this season next weekend at the Vicente Calderon.
Lionel Messi was once again watching from the sidelines as he nears a comeback from a hamstring injury and Neymar was left on the bench having recently returned from a Christmas break in Brazil.
However, Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez once again proved able deputies as they slotted home inside the opening 15 minutes.
Xavi Hernandez also missed a second-half penalty for the hosts, but it mattered little as Sanchez rolled home his second goal from Pedro's pass shortly afterwards.
And the Chilean sealed his first hat-trick for the club with a stunning free-kick 21 minutes from time.
Barca now lead Real Madrid by eight points, but Madrid can cut the gap on the leaders to five with victory over Celta Vigo on Monday.
"We played very well. We had variation, precision, control and we had a lot of chances," said Barca boss Gerardo Martino.
"We were always concentrated through the game and limited the opponent to very few sights of goal.
"In the second-half especially we controlled the game completely."
And the Argentine was particularly pleased with the contribution of Pedro and Sanchez in the absence of Messi and Neymar.
"I was happy for Alexis because, as a coach, you always like to see players like he and Pedro who work so hard for the team get their reward."