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Barcelona boss Luis Enrique said he is looking forward to the most "beautiful" part of the season as his side closes in on another league, Cup and Champions League treble.

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as Barca set a Spanish soccer record of 35 consecutive games unbeaten in all competitions with a 5-1 win at Rayo Vallecano on Thursday, breaking the mark set by Real Madrid nearly 30 years ago.

Barca is poised for a sixth La Liga title in eight years as it leads Atletico Madrid by eight points and Real Madrid by 12 with just 11 games to go.

The Catalans will also face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final and hold a 2-0 first-leg lead over Arsenal in the last-16 of the Champions League.

"We are approaching the final third of the season and the most beautiful part is still to come," said Enrique.

"We have to wait and see what we can achieve, but whatever we do it will be deserved."

Despite its remarkable unbeaten run, the European champion hasn't always been at its best in recent weeks.

But it looked to be back in top form at Vallecas, even if Rayo was reduced to nine-men.

"You always know the difficulties that a team like Rayo can present, but we overcame those in the best way with the attitude, intensity and ruthlessness we showed," said Enrique.

"We played very well and when we are at this level in terms of attitude and intensity, it is very hard for the opponents."

The only negative on the night for the Catalans was another missed penalty as Luis Suarez failed to build on his two-goal lead over Cristiano Ronaldo in the fight to be La Liga's top scorer when his spot-kick in the second half was brilliantly blocked by Juan Carlos.

Barca has now missed six of its 13 penalties in the league this season with the star front trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar all missing twice.

"It is a facet we have to improve on, but it doesn't overly concern me if we have the game wrapped up beforehand," Enrique said.

Real Madrid's record of 34 unbeaten games was set under coach Leo Beenhakker in 1989, with players such as Emilio Butragueno and Hugo Sanchez. The run ended in a 2-0 loss at Celta Vigo.

Barcelona earlier this year had already broken its own club record of 29 games without a loss in all competitions, a mark set by Pep Guardiola's squad in 2011.

Enrique's team hasn't lost since a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in October.

Barcelona tied Real Madrid's offense as the best in the league this season with 74 goals scored in 27 games.

Rayo has lost 10 straight games to Barcelona, being outscored 28-4 in the last six. Its previous win over the Catalan club was in 2002. It lost 5-2 earlier this season, when Neymar scored four goals at Camp Nou.

Rayo was coming off three consecutive 2-2 draws in the league and was unbeaten in seven games. The loss left the team from Madrid 17th in the 20-team standings, just outside relation zone.

 

Barcelona's Luis Suarez reacts after missing a penalty during Thursday's 5-1 La Liga victory over Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas stadium in Madrid. Sergio Perez / Reuters

(China Daily 03/05/2016 page12)

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