|Making it look so easy - Messi weaves through the Almeria defence [GALLO/GETTY]
Spanish champions Barcelona showed their strength ahead of the impending Primera Division 'clasico' against Real Madrid with an 8-0 hammering of lowly Almeria, their best ever away-win in 51 years.
Lionel Messi was in unstoppable form on Saturday, scoring a hat-trick to become only the fourth Barcelona scorer to go over 100 goals after starting the triumph with his 17th-minute opener.
He added another in the 37th before pouncing on a loose ball in the 67th for his league-leading 13th goal, and 14th goal in eight games in all competitions.
However, in the late game Cristiano Ronaldo answered with a hat trick of his own as Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 5-1 to stay top of the league ahead of their upcoming meeting.
Madrid top the standings with 32 points and Barcelona have 31.
Barca were 5-0 up by half time, with Messi's two goals, one apiece from Andres Iniesta and Pedro, and an own goal from Santiago Acasiete.
Substitute Bojan Krkic scored two more after the break, completing a rout that left under-pressure Almeria coach Juanma Lillo in a delicate position.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola left Gerard Pique on the bench with the Spain defender a yellow card away from suspension ahead of the Madrid match.
But it hardly mattered with Barcelona's offence looking so good.
Messi capped a well-worked combination with David Villa by firing past goalkeeper Diego Alves for the opener.
Iniesta jumped on an Almeria defensive error to fire past Diego Alves into the roof of goal two minutes later before Acasiete poked Maxwell's pass home in the 27th.
Pedro beat Diego Alves to a long ball to fire into an open goal in the 35th.
The Spain forward then found Messi darting into the box and although the Brazilian 'keeper saved the right-footed shot, Messi hesitated long enough to receive the rebound and score with his left foot.
Bojan came in for Pedro and held off two defenders before flicking over Diego Alves in the 63rd to make it 6-0.
Messi's easiest was his last after Diego Alves spilled the rebound from Villa's hard shot for league goal No. 101 with the Catalan club.
Ronaldo led Madrid after Gonzalo Higuain opened for the hosts in the 19th minute.
Mesut Oezil tapped a long pass into the path of the Portugal forward to fire past goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz and make it 2-0 after half an hour.
Fernando Llorente volleyed a loose ball home from inside the box for the Basque side just before the break.
But Sergio Ramos restored the two-goal lead with a 57th-minute penalty then Ronaldo surprised Iraizoz with a dipping free kick from over 30 yards out.
Ronaldo capped Madrid's resounding win with an injury-time penalty for his league-leading 14th goal.
Earlier, an equaliser from Giuseppe Rossi earned Villarreal a 1-1 home draw with Valencia to keep them third on 24 points, three clear of their local rivals.
The Italy striker stole in to net his eighth goal of the campaign in the 73rd minute after Aritz Aduriz's 21st-minute opener for Valencia.
Injury-hit Valencia had Lithuanian defender Marius Stankevicius sent off ten minutes from time but Villarreal were unable to complete the comeback and lost their 100 per cent home record this season.