Barcelona: Lionel Messi was the record breaker once again, reaching 68 goals for the season as Barcelona recorded a convincing 4-1 victory over Malaga at Camp Nou to keep their slim chances of defending their La Liga crown alive.
Carles Puyol netted the opener early on as the Catalans got off to a flying start to the match, but the Blaugrana captain soon turned from hero to villain as he allowed Salomon Rondon to find the equaliser with a fine header shortly after.
Messi, however, had the final say as he netted a penalty just after the half-hour mark, and added a double in the second period to round off the win, and in the process surpass Gerd Muller`s European goalscoring record, which the German had held since the 1972-73 campaign.
Both teams began the match cautiously, but it was Malaga who looked the more threatening side in the opening minutes. Duda struck the post for Manuel Pellegrini`s men with a free kick as the visitors were starting to build momentum, but they were soon pegged back by a trademark Barcelona goal.
Messi and Andres Iniesta combined well on the right, before the Spaniard crossed for captain Puyol, who applied a simple finish, leaving Carlos Kameni helpless.
Malaga, however, were not too discouraged by the turn of events and continued to apply pressure on the hosts.
Just before the half-hour mark their efforts were rewarded as Rondon netted the equaliser. An opportunistic cross by Jesus Gamez from the right found the Venezuelan in the box, and the striker scored with a diving header after slipping past Puyol.
Malaga`s joy did not last long, however, as in the 34th minute Barcelona were rewarded a penalty for a foul on Andres Iniesta. Messi kept his nerve, and coolly converted into the centre of Kameni`s goal to restore Barca`s lead.
Malaga attempted to get back into the game after the break, but their hopes were soon crushed by Pep Guardiola`s clinical team, and in particular, their Argentine star.
On the hour mark a mistimed challenge by Duda on Messi in the box resulted in another penalty for the Blaugrana. The Ballon d`Or holder once again got the better of goalkeeper Kameni from the spot.
Messi did not stop there, however, as in the 64th minute he completed his hat-trick. A clever through-ball from Iniesta saw Messi rush through Malaga`s defence and flick the ball over Kameni to make it 4-1 for Barcelona, and edge past Muller into the history books.
Manuel Pellegrini`s men never gave up and tried to take the game to the Catalans in the remaining minutes of the match. Their efforts were futile, however, as Guardiola`s side easily soaked up the pressure to record a convincing victory.
Following tonight`s result, Barcelona are second in the standings with 87 points, while Malaga sit fourth with 55. The Blaugrana`s next league game is at home against Espanyol on Saturday, while Manuel Pellegrini`s men visit Atletico Madrid on the same day.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, could clinch the Primera Division title if they are able to defeat Athletic Bilbao at San Mames later on Wednesday.