Messi scores in Barcelona’s 2-0 win at Espanyol
Lionel Messi and Neymar kept front-runner Barcelona on pace to reclaiming the Spanish league title after scoring in a 2-0 win at Espanyol to provisionally increase its lead over Real Madrid on Saturday.
Luis Suarez, the third member of the star-studded attack, played a part in both goals against Barcelona’s cross-town rival.
Messi’s incisive pass started a move that Neymar finished off in the 17th minute after Suarez coolly let the ball run between his legs.
Suarez then crossed for Messi to double the visitors’ advantage in the 25th with his 47th goal in 48 games this season.
Barcelona leads the league by five points from second-place Madrid, which visits Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who has also guided the team into a Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich and the Copa del Rey final, called his side’s first half “the best” of the season.
“We are feeling good vibrations, but good vibrations don’t mean anything. Points and wins count,” Luis Enrique said. “We have five rounds left, and our attitude must remain the same. I’m not worried about my players relaxing.”
Barcelona lost left back Jordi Alba to back-to-back bookings in the 54th after he continued to protest, but the leaders didn’t miss a beat, and three minutes later Messi hit the post.
Espanyol also finished with 10 men after referee Mateu Lahoz showed two yellow cards just moments apart to Hector Moreno for complaining in stoppage time.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann recorded his third brace in as many league games as last season’s champions brushed aside Elche 3-0 at home, strengthening their hold on third place.
Griezmann headed in a rebound for his 21st league goal in the 55th, and added a 22nd after Raul Garcia struck from long range.
Levante also edged away from the relegation zone with a 1-0 victory at Getafe from Victor Casadesus’ headed goal in the 35th, while sixthplace Villarreal drew 0-0 at Real Sociedad as both failed to break winless runs.
Sociedad remained in 12th just ahead of Getafe, while Levante moved into 15th at five points above the drop.
With Messi in fine form, Barcelona dominated the derby from the start.
He fell back into midfield where he picked Espanyol with his passes over the defense, and only goalkeeper Kiko Casilla prevented the hosts from suffering a bigger defeat.
Messi had already spotted runs by Neymar and Alba that ended in saves by Casilla before his long pass was squared by Alba and fell to Neymar to drive home after Suarez let it run past. It was Neymar’s fourth goal in five matches, and his 31st in all competitions this season.
“Messi is one of a kind,” Espanyol manager Sergio Gonzalez said.
Suarez also continued to excel as a playmaker when he interchanged passes with Andres Iniesta before finding Messi alone at the far post to slot a shot under Casillas from a tight angle.
Down 2- 0, Espanyol finally emerged from its half, but that left its defense only more exposed. Casilla was called on to parry Neymar’s strike after Suarez set him up before halftime, and block the Brazilian’s chip shot just after the break.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez went on as a second-half substitute to make his 500th league appearance, the eighth most in the history of the competition.
Espanyol took advantage of its extra man only in the final 20 minutes with a series of corner kicks that Barcelona defended without problems, before goalie Claudio Bravo denied substitute Christian Stuani four minutes from time.
FC Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, of Uruguay, right, duels for the ball against Espanyol’s Hector Moreno during a Spanish La Liga soccer match at Cornella-El Prat stadium in Cornella Llobregat, Spain on Saturday, April 25.