Three goals down after eight minutes and 5-1 behind inside half-an-hour, what could Atletico Madrid manager Javier Aguire possibly say to his players at half-time? "What you try to do is make sure there is no more blood shed in the second half" said the shell-shocked Mexican coach.
The team that will twice play Liverpool in the Champions League over the next four weeks was massacred inside the Nou Camp. Liverpool's studious manager Rafa Benitez loves to make notes while watching games – he will have run out of ink before half-time on Saturday night.
Just three minutes had gone when Barça drew first blood. A pass inside the makeshift right-back Luis Perea sent Andres Iniesta scuttling down the left. He forced a corner which Xavi planted onto Marquez's head and the unmarked Mexican defender nodded in the opener.
Three minutes later Atletico Madrid's Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi brought down Leo Messi and Samuel Eto'o celebrated his 250th La Liga game by scoring his 136th league goal and the second of the match.
For the visitors it was tragedy and comedy in equal measure – goalkeeper Gregory Coupet was leaning on his post as the third sailed in.
Messi had been given the all-clear to take a quick free-kick by referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez and Coupet was still busy admiring the wall he had so nearly finished organising when Messi's set-piece flew past him.
This game had been billed as the battle between the two Argentine No 10 but with it already over as a contest inside 10 minutes Atletico striker Sergio Aguero had only touched the ball three times and on each occasion it had been to restart the match.
Maxi Rodriguez curled a shot past Victor Valdez on 13 minutes to make it 3-1 but the Argentine picked up a thigh injury in the process and limped out of the action before the interval adding to Atletico's mounting injury list.
There is little doubting the quality of their first XI but five of that first-choice team is now in the treatment room. Maxi joins striker Diego Forlan, winger Simao, midfielder Maniche and full-back Giorgios Seitaridis in the race to be fit for the Champions League double-header with Liverpool.
Five minutes after Maxi's goal, Eto'o ran onto a Xavi pass, shrugged off Ujfalusi and shot past Coupet to make it four. It was five before the break when Eidur Gudjohnsen scored after Iniesta's shot had come back off a post.
It could easily have been eight before half-time. Iniesta hit a post, Gudjohnsen had a goal ruled out for offside and Messi shot narrowly wide after a mazy run that started in the centre-circle. Barcelona were now playing so well they didn't need the opposition's mistakes and the sixth goal after the break was the pick of the bunch.
Substitutes Thierry Henry and Bojan Krkic combined brilliantly on 72 minutes with the youngster's drilled cross rifled home by the Frenchman who celebrated by running to the bench and embracing Eto'o who he had replaced on the hour.
Barça's other former Gunner, Alexander Hleb, missed the rout because of the ankle injury he picked up three weeks ago. The midfielder is back in training however and has been called up by Belarus ahead of their match with England next week.
Hleb's return will leave defender Gabi Milito as Barcelona's only injured player. The Catalans are in rude health – this was their sixth win on the bounce and their poor start to the season is now a distant memory.
"It's good to get into a winning habit," said Henry. "In recent weeks we have shown that we can come back from being behind in games and that has given us enormous confidence to go out and produce a performance like this one." Former Manchester United defender Gerard Pique, one of six products of the Barcelona youth system in Saturday's starting eleven, added: "It was the best performance of the season. They are a Champions League side who are playing well and to score three goals against them that quickly shows that we are very serious title contenders this season."
Atletico coach Aguire shouldered the blame. He said: "I got the line-up wrong, the preparation wrong, the team-talk wrong and I failed to change things in the first half." Full-back Antonio Lopez added. "We were asleep at the start. Our heads were down and there was no talking on the pitch. We played like schoolboys."
Despite Barcelona’s win neither they nor Real Madrid, who drew 2-2 with Espanyol courtesy of a Raul double, are having things their own way. Valencia stayed top beating Valladolid 1-0 thanks to a goal from former Everton loanee Manuel Fernandez; Villarreal made it 19 games unbeaten at home with a 2-1 win over Real Betis and stay second; and Seville went third beating Athletic Bilbao 4-0.
Goals: Marquez (3) 1-0; Eto'o pen (6) 2-0; Messi (9) 3-0; Maxi (13) 3-1; Eto'o (18) 4-1; Gudjohnsen (28) 5-1; Henry (73) 6-1.
Barcelona: Valdes; Marquez, Puyol, Abidal, Pique; Xavi (Keita, 74), Iniesta, Sergi; Gudjohnsen, Messi (Bojan, 70), Eto'o (Henry, 59). Substitutes not used: Pinto, Sylvinho, Caceres, Touré.
Atletico Madrid: Coupet; Ujfalusi, Lopez, Perea, Heitinga; Luis Garcia (Pernia, 48), Assuncao, Raul Garcia; Sinama-Pongolle, Aguero (Banega, 58), Maxi Rodriguez (Miguel, 21). Substitutes not used: Franco, Dominguez, Keko, Zapata.
Referee: E Gonzalez.
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