By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Lionel Messi scored two late goals and Luis Suarez got his first in La Liga as Barcelona crushed struggling Cordoba 5-0 on Saturday to finish the year a point behind leaders Real Madrid.
In-form Pedro put Barca ahead after 71 seconds, the second fastest goal in La Liga this season, with a clinical finish from a ball over the top of the defense by Ivan Rakitic.
The signs were ominous for Cordoba as they found themselves encamped in their own half, although Barca did not add to their lead until early in the second half through Suarez.
With the Cordoba players’ heads going down, Gerard Pique nodded a third before Messi's double took his season La Liga tally to 15 behind Cristiano Ronaldo who has 25 for Real Madrid.
Xavi came on as a second-half substitute in his 741st match for Barca, equaling the record of Real's Raul for the number of games played for a single club in Spanish football.
Barca have moved on to the shoulders of Real, who are in the Club World Cup final on Saturday against South Ameerica side San Lorenzo and have a game in hand on their arch-rivals.
Uruguayan Suarez, who returned at the end of October from a four-month ban for biting at the World Cup, claimed his first league goal for Barca when he slotted home from a Pedro pass.
“I am more relaxed now having got the goal. Perhaps we had something to prove going into the match as the draw (last weekend) against Getafe was a blow,” Suarez told reporters.
“We are candidates for La Liga and we want to turn things around at the top. For me personally to get a goal in the league is important but I knew with all the support I was getting that it would come soon.”
Suarez had come close to adding to Pedro’s opener when his strike from a Jordi Alba pull-back went just the wrong side of the post. Barca have looked susceptible at the back this season and there were warning signs when Nabil Ghilas ran unopposed down the right wing but he fired into the side netting from a tight angle. However, Luis Enrique’s Barca were clearly in control with Rakitic and Pedro having further chances before Suarez struck after 52 minutes.
From there the game opened up as Cordoba began to lose concentration.
Pique headed in a cross from Xavi before Messi came to life after a quiet game by his standards with two well-struck drives from inside the area to complete the rout.
In the late game, Levante's Andreas Ivanschitz converted an added-time penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw against Real Sociedad.
David Moyes’ Sociedad side were on course for their first away win of the season with a Sergio Canales goal just after the break before Carlos Martinez handled in the area.
Ivanschitz kept his cool and sent keeper Geronimo Rulli the wrong way to earn a point. The two teams are level on 15 points from 16 games in the lower half of the table.
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)