Barcelona eased past Elche with a comfortable 4-0 victory at the Nou Camp to go back to the top of the table ahead of Atletico Madrid.

Alexis Sanchez was the star performer for the Catalans and the Chilean winger scored a wonderful hat-trick, completed with a stunning 25-yard free-kick, while Pedro Rodriguez scored the second goal in Barca's first match of 2014.

Star duo Lionel Messi and Neymar didn't play much, with Messi left out of the squad and Neymar entering as a late substitute.

It all started great for Blaugrana and after just seven minutes Sanchez got on the end of Jordi Alba's cross to open the scoring.

But a few moments later, the visitors could have restored the parity when Richmond Boayke blasted a drive off the underside of the crossbar following a rapid Elche counter-attack.

After around 10 minutes, Cesc Fabregas played a fantastic through ball to Pedro, who rounded Elche goalkeeper Tono and finished into the empty net to double the Catalans' lead.

Before half-time, Pedro and Xavi went close to adding to the scoreline, but neither of them managed to score.

Moments after the start of the second period, Barca were awarded a penalty after Alberto Botia brought down Fabregas in the box. Xavi stepped up, but his shot flew inches wide from the right post.

The playmaker then looked keen to make amends for his penalty and he almost put a third goal on a plate for Gerard Pique and Sanchez, but neither player could make a connection with the low drive across the face of goal.

Just after the hour-mark the game was dead in the water after Sanchez scored his second goal by just tapping the ball after being played in by Pedro.

And in the 70th minute, Sanchez completed his hat-trick with a stunning free-kick from around 25 yards in the style of the absent Messi.

With 10 minutes to go Neymar was introduced but didn't make much of the game in the dying minutes.

The result takes the reigning champions back to the top of table above Atletico Madrid. Both teams have 49 points, but the Catalans have the better goal difference.

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