By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Alexis Sanchez hit a hat-trick as Barcelona swept aside Elche 4-0 to return to the top of La Liga on goal difference ahead of Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Showing no sign of missing the injured Lionel Messi and rested Neymar, Barca took an early lead through Sanchez and Pedro made it 2-0 after 15 minutes.
Xavi Hernandez missed a penalty at the start of the second half before Sanchez added another and completed his hat-trick with a free kick.
"It was important to win and not make mistakes at home. We scored good goals and worked hard. There are five tough months still to go," Pedro told reporters.
Barcelona play Atletico next weekend.
"We know it is going to be difficult and we will go step by step," Pedro added. "First we face Getafe in the (King's) cup."
Barca and Atletico, who beat Malaga on Saturday, both have 49 points, eight more than third-placed Real Madrid who face Celta Vigo on Monday.
Elche could only hold out for seven minutes before the home side took the lead when Jordi Alba's dangerous cross from the left wing evaded the defence and Chilean Sanchez fire into the roof of the net.
The visitors were inches away from equalising when Yiadom Boakye crashed a drive against the post but it was only a brief respite.
Barca pressed high up the pitch and with Elche's defence pushing up there were plenty of gaps to run into.
Cesc Fabregas's pass opened up the defence and Pedro finished clinically from an angle.
After the break Fabregas was brought down by Ionut Sapunaru and Xavi missed the penalty but Sanchez was more deadly, knocking home a Pedro cross from close range after 63 minutes. He then curled home a 25-yard free kick to cap a great performance.
Antoine Griezmann and Ruben Pardo gave Real Sociedad a 2-0 victory in the Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao.
Carlos Gurpegi headed wide from a corner for Athletic before Sociedad took the lead before the break. Griezmann's initial volley from the edge of the area was blocked by Claudio Bravo but he knocked in the rebound.
The visitors had more of the ball but Sociedad carried a threat on the break and Pardo scored deep into stoppage time.
The win lifted them to one point behind fourth-placed Bilbao.
"It's good to get the victory and pick up the points especially in a derby. We played well and I'm happy with my form at the moment but we need to keep going," Griezmann told reporters.
Earlier, Vitolo, Carlos Bacca and Ivan Rakitic gave Sevilla a 3-0 win over Getafe and an Alvaro Cejudo goal gave Osasuna a 1-0 victory over Espanyol.