By Tom Webber, Goal.com
Barcelona picked up its 17th win of the season with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Catalan neighbor Espanyol at Camp Nou.
A sublime opening half hour from Barca proved to do all the damage, with Xavi opening the scoring after just 10 minutes. Pedro soon netted a double before Lionel Messi slid home from the spot after Cesc Fabregas was brought down in the area.
The winter break proved not to have hindered the Blaugrana's typically flowing football, as they took command of the game from the first second, seemingly buoyed by the return of Tito Vilanova to the bench after surgery for a tumor relapse in his throat.
Operating from the left, Andres Iniesta was dancing past the Espanyol defense with ease, and it only took 10 minutes for him to create the opening goal. Having been picked out in space by Messi, Iniesta drilled a low cross into the area where Xavi arrived to slot home unmarked.
The hosts were unrelenting, and after Kiko Casilla made a great save to keep out Iniesta in the 13th minute, it took just another two minutes for the second to come.
Fabregas displayed great balance as he dribbled past Javi Lopez before cutting the ball back to Messi. The Argentine flicked it into the path of Pedro, who managed to make enough of a connection to send the ball into the far corner.
Midway through the half Sergio Garcia blazed a golden chance to cut the deficit in half over the bar, and it proved costly as Pedro added Barcelona's third in the 27th minute. Busquets' perfectly-weighted through-ball was tucked away by the winger with a delightful first-time dink over the keeper.
It went from bad to worse for Javier Aguirre's men as Casilla was judged to have illegaly brought down Fabregas inside the area just two minutes later. Messi was given the responsibility of the spot-kick and he nonchalantly slotted in his 27th Liga goal of the season.
The rampant Catalan giants soon stepped off the gas though and cruised into the break with the game seemingly already won, but the second half did not bring about a change in the pattern of the game as Barca continued to retain the ball, forcing the Periquitos to chase the ball.
The cutting, clinical nature of the hosts had ebbed in the second half, and Pedro can count himself unlucky not to have bagged his hat trick as he twice had the ball in the net again, only to see the goals chalked off for debateable offside decisions.
Espanyol almost grabbed a consolation goal as Juan Angel Albin pounced on a short pass back to Victor Valdes by Gerard Pique, but the Uruguayan could not find a way past the goalkeeper.
The humiliation was almost compounded in the 82nd minute as Messi struck a fantastic 30-yard free kick at goal but the crossbar saved the flailing Casilla.
The victory moves Barcelona 12 points clear at the top of the table, though that could move back to nine should Atletico Madrid defeat Mallorca later on Sunday.
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