Liga - Alexis Sanchez hat-trick puts Barcelona back on top

La Liga, Camp Nou - Barcelona 4 (Sánchez 7’, 63’, 69’ Pedro 16’) Elche CF 0

Alexis Sanchez grabbed his first La Liga hat-trick as Barcelona returned to the top of the table with a 4-0 win over Elche.

The Chilean scored a wonderful hat-trick, that he completed with a magnificent free-kick finish from 25 yards, as Pedro Rodriguez also found the net to cap a comfortable win for the Catalan side.

Lionel Messi was left out of the matchday squad, with Tata Martino eager to keep the Argentinean fresh for next week’s title clash with Atletico Madrid as he continues his recovery from injury. However, Neymar was on the bench following his return from suspension.

"It was important to win and not make mistakes at home. We scored good goals and worked hard. There are five tough months still to go," Pedro told reporters.

"We know it is going to be difficult and we will go step by step," Pedro added. "First we face Getafe in the (King's) cup."

Sanchez gave Barcelona the lead their positive start deserved, getting on the end of Jordi Alba’s cross into the box from the left wing to finish high into the roof of the net.

But against the run of play the visitors almost restored parity when Richmond Boayke blasted a drive off the underside of the crossbar following a rapid Elche counter attack.

The Catalans doubled their lead soon after when Pedro latched on to Cesc Fabregas’ threaded through ball from deep to round Tono in the Elche goal and finish into the empty net.

Pedro and Xavi passed up opportunities to add to the scoreline before half time, but their range was out on both occasions as Barcelona suffocated their opponents with their trademark pass and move game.

Barca were awarded a penalty kick just minutes into the second half when Fabregas was felled in the box by Alberto Botia, but Xavi placed his spot kick effort past the post, with Tono choosing to dive the right way.

Xavi appeared eager to make amends for his penalty miss and almost put a third goal on a plate for Gerard Pique and Sanchez, but neither player could make a connection with the low drive across the face of goal.

A third was added just after the hour mark when Sanchez tapped home after being played in by team-mate Pedro, despite appearing to have strayed a yard offside when the pass was made.

And Sanchez put the finishing touch on his three-goal performance by curling home an exceptional free-kick from 25 yards, in the style of his absent team-mate Messi.

Neymar was introduced as the game wound down but failed to make any real impact as Barcelona wound down the clock with relative ease. The result takes the champions back to the top of the Spanish league table following Atletico's 1-0 win over Malaga on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Antoine Griezmann's first half goal added to a stoppage time effort from Ruben Pardo Gutierrez saw Real Sociedad close the gap on fourth placed Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao to just one point.

Vitolo, Carlos Bacca and Ivan Rakitic gave Sevilla a 3-0 win over Getafe that put them sixth in the table.

And Alvaro got the only goal as Osasuna won 1-0 at home to Espanyol.