MADRID - Barcelona kept Real Madrid's La Liga title celebrations on hold for a few days at least with a crushing 7-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano on Sunday after Real had cruised to a 3-0 home win over Sevilla.
Two days after Pep Guardiola announced his decision to step down as Barca coach at the end of the season, World Player of the Year Lionel Messi scored two goals and had a hand in four more including two for Pedro.
Barca were playing at Rayo's compact stadium just a short distance away from Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid where everything was in place for the mass festivities expected when Jose Mourinho's side win a first league title in four years.
Real maintained their seven-point lead with three games left after Karim Benzema bagged a double and Cristiano Ronaldo racked up his 43rd league goal of the campaign to crush Sevilla.
Mourinho's side have 91 points and can secure their 32nd league title with victory at Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, regardless of what Guardiola's side do at home to Malaga.
"We won this game which was very important and now we'll carry on so we can close out the league title," Benzema told Spanish television as Mourinho continued his domestic media blackout.
"The Champions League is finished so now we need to make sure we win the next most important competition," added the France international.
Big-spending Malaga strengthened their chances of a first venture into the Champions League next season when a cross looped in off Ignacio Camacho's shoulder for a 1-0 home win over Valencia.
The visitors, dumped out of the Europa League on Thursday, had midfielder Sofiane Feghouli sent off in the 61st minute, and Manuel Pellegrini's side drew level with them on 55 points. Valencia stayed third, ahead of Malaga due to their superior head-to-head record, in the last two qualification slots for Europe's elite club competition.