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Six-goal romp has Barcelona clicking before Champions League

Feb 15, 2014, 6:57 PM EDT

barcelona AP

Three days out from Barcelona’s trip to Manchester City, Spain’s leaders are starting to look like their former selves. After a winter that saw the Spanish champions temporarily lose their place at the top of the Spanish table, Gerardo Martino’s team seemed more vulnerable than usual. Instead, the Blaugrana were just regrouping.

With today’s 6-0 win over visiting Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona have outscored their last two league opponents 10-1. They’ve reclaimed their lead in La Liga, and with Neymar coming off the bench in the second half, the defending champs have all their stars back. When they visit the Etihad on Tuesday in UEFA Champions League, Barça will finally be at full strength.

As Saturday showed, they’ll also be in form. Within two minutes of kickoff at the Camp Nou, Alexis Sánchez had Barça on the board, continuing what’s been his best season in Spain. Lionel Messi doubled his team’s lead by half time, with second half goals from Sánchez, Pedro, Messi and Neymar leading to the lopsided result. The trio of Messi, Pedro, and Sánchez have now combined for 41 league goals this season.

If you’ve been following our weekly Spain wrap ups, you know this is the type of performance Barcelona’s been missing at times over the league seven weeks. They’ve continued to dominate possession and limit their opponent’s chances, but they’re often unable to translate that dominance onto the scoreboard, leaving opponents within striking distance. It bit them two weeks ago against Valencia. It also cost them in January at Levante and resurfaced during the team’s 2-0 win at home against Real Sociedad in Copa del Rey.

Maybe those are just isolated examples. Even with those down performances, Barcelona’s averaging over three goals per game since December (40 goals, 13 games). Saturday’s six spot, however, took their production to another level. It was the first time since Dec. 11 they’ve scored as many goals and their first victory by six-or-more goals since beating Levante 7-0 in August.

If Barcelona has rekindled that early season form — a level that saw them open the Spanish season with eight straight wins — they’re as ready as they’ll ever be for Manchester City. Though drawing Manuel Pellegrini’s side gives them a semifinal-level challenge in the Round of 16, Martino’s team may be up to it.

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